Americans can work together to combat racism, according to Morris Dees, the Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Through a series of stories and messages, the historical civil rights lawyer and activist gave a speech on “Teaching Tolerance” to several hundred people in Gaston Hall last night at 6 p.m. Divina Walker (COL ’99) of the Diversity Working Group introduced Dees. Walker noted many of Dees’ accomplishments in fighting against racism in our society – for example, he began Klan Watch, a group to monitor activities of the Ku Klux Klan, in 1980. “I have the pleasure of welcoming a hero – Morris Dees,” Walker said. “Our nation is deeply divided down lots of lines,” Dees said, mentioning sexual orientation, gender, religion and politics as examples. “But our deepest division is down racial lines,” he added. Dees told a story of an Ethiopian family’s $12 million victory over Tom Metzker and the White Aryan Resistance, none of which would have been possible without the Southern Poverty Law Center, which promotes civil rights and fights against injustice. “I believe our nation is great because of diversity not in spite of it [as Metzker had implied at the trial],” he said. The Southern Poverty Law Center also works to promote tolerance in schools. With its “Teaching Tolerance” videos, the Law Center has made its way into 70,000 classrooms, according to Dees. “We need to learn to love each other, especially those who are different,” Dees said. Using another parable to deliver his message, Dees spoke of the duality of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He felt the victorious U.S. gymnastics team represented a diverse nation and the bombing terrorism symbolized intolerance and fear. Dees discussed the bombing of Oklahoma City. Timothy McVeigh must have thought of himself as a hero, fighting for his version of America, according to Dees. In this example, he made first mention of a recurring theme – “whose America this is,” explaining the struggle between “white folk and people of color.” Using America’s perception of the O.J. Simpson case, which split down racial lines, as evidence, Dees noted the existence of racial conflict in America. “If anger, frustration and fear are allowed to erupt, it will result in violence that will make the L.A. riots seem like a Sunday school picnic,” he said. Dees closed out his presentation by discussing another great civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King. “I think, if Dr. King were alive today, he would have the same faith and hope in diversity,” Dees said. The Diversity Working Group, Justice and Peace Studies, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and the Lecture Fund sponsored the speech.

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