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By Stephen Collins '74
Morris Dees, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the scourge of hate-mongering organizations, addressed a crowd in Cotter Union on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and described the ugly messages and violent tactics of the Klan, Aryan Nation and other hate groups. Recounting tirades against immigrants and people of color that Tom Metzger used to mobilize his White Aryan Resistance group in the late 1980s, Dees told students, "the America that Tom Metzger believes in is an America that never existed. Our nation is great because of our diversity, not in spite of it."
Dees has made a career of bringing hate-mongers, including Metzger, to justice. In case after case he has brought civil suits against those who advocated and instigated violence, and he has won judgments large enough to fiscally bankrupt the men and organizations he deems morally bankrupt. He recounted his case against Metzger after White Aryan Resistance thugs beat an Ethiopian immigrant to death in Oregon. By proving that Metzger's hate speech and literature motivated the crime, Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center won a $12-million judgment that put Metzger and his organization out of business.
Dees spoke for 45 minutes without notes, his soothing Alabama drawl and calm demeanor belying the fact that he has to travel with bodyguards, that security officers watched the entrances and that only Colby's security office was privy to his travel arrangements.
"A lot has happened since Dr. King left us," he told students. "We've taken three steps forward and two back."
"It's going to be up to each of us to carry out the legacy of Dr. King and Rosa Parks and all the other people who voted with their feet in this nation at a time when our country had lost its way. It's up to us. It's not enough just to come to an MLK celebration and think about a time in history, because the time in your history is right now.
"There are issues on the table today that are just as important as those when the blacks went to the back of the bus and whites went to the front. When I hear people in this country crying out for equal treatment--for people who might have a different sexual orientation, or for women, or for handicapped people--they're not crying out for special treatment, they're simply asking for justice. And those who lash out against them with violence are enemies of our democracy. And it's going to be up to you when you get in those seats of power in this country . . . to, some kind of way, wipe the blinds of stereotypes and bias and prejudice from our eyes."
HOW SHOULD WE TEACH?
Small Triumphs: Alex Quigley '99 finds reason for both hope and despair in the Mississippi Delta
A Ray of Hope: Brittany Ray '93 inspires where she found her inspiration
An Education CEO: Robert Furek '65 brings accountability to Hartford public schools
Charting Success: James Verrilli '83 directs charter school turn-around in Newark
Perspectives on Reform: Colby experts discuss reform and the purpose of education
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College Colby Magazine 4181
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