Morris Dees, the son of a cotton gin operator, was born at Shorter, Alabama, in 1936. After graduating from the University of Alabama School of Law (1960) he moved to Montgomery where he established a mail order and book publishing business,.
In 1967 Dees decided to sell his successful business and become a specialist civil rights lawyer. He soon developed a reputation for supporting the cause of African Americans. This included campaigning against the building of a new university in Alabama for white students and for the integration of the all-white Montgomery YMCA.
In 1971 Dees joined with Joseph J. Levin and Julian Bond to establish the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Alabama. A non-profit organization, the SPLC attempts to "combat hate, intolerance, and discrimination through education and litigation." The SPLC initially provided legal representation in individual cases dealing with racial discrimination.
After the lynching of Michael Donald in 1981, the SPLC represented his mother, Beulah Mae Donald, in a civil suit which resulted in a $7 million liability judgment which bankrupted the United Klans of America.
Dees was given the Roger Baldwin Award by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1990. Dees has published several books including his autobiography, A Season for Justice (1991), Hate on Trial: The Case Against America's Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi (1993) and Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat (1996).