Morris Dees, honored as one of the nation’s top civil rights lawyers, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center.

The talk, sponsored by St. Thomas’ University Lectures Committee, is free and open to the public. For more information call the committee at (651) 962-6136.

Dees will explore the topic of “Teaching Tolerance,” including information on hate crimes, in a second presentation that will run from 9 to 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 17, in the OEC auditorium. This second presentation is open to all members of the St. Thomas community, but is not open to the general public.

Dees began helping minorities in court during the civil rights movement and in 1971 co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that maintains a pool of lawyers who specialize in lawsuits involving civil rights violations and racially motivated crimes.

When Klan members lynched an African American man in Alabama in 1981, Dees and the center sued the Klan for inciting violence and won a $7 million precedent-setting judgment. Ten years ago he won a $12.5 million verdict for the family of an Ethiopian murdered by skinheads in Oregon, and two years ago he obtained a record $37.8 million verdict against the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for the burning of the Macedonia Baptist Church in South Carolina.

Dees, a University of Alabama Law School graduate, also helped develop “Teaching Tolerance,” the Southern Poverty Law Center’s education project.

Most recently he has been educating people about America’s radical militia movement and in 1996 wrote the expose, Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat. He also has written an autobiography, A Season for Justice, and Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi. His life was the subject of a made-for-television movie, Line of Fire, broadcast by NBC in 1991.

Dees’ life has been repeatedly threatened and his offices burned. He was named a “Trial Lawyer of the Year” by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, and received the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association.