Washington Lawyer - September 2016 - 36

WORTH READING Laurence Leamer In fighting domestic terrorism, Laurence Leamer's hero makes the Klan pay - literally By Ronald Goldfarb There were 3,959 racial terror lynchings in 12 southern states from 1877 to 1950, but none for more than a quarter century thereafter. Then, on March 21, 1981, in Mobile, Alabama, a 19-year-old black man was found tortured and dead, hanging from a tree. How and why this act of terror was committed by a group of violent racists in response to the acquittal of a black man by a mostly (11-1) black jury for the murder of a white police sergeant is the incident Laurence Leamer uses to introduce the life story of Morris Dees, the white lawyer who pursued the murderers and bankrupted the Klan, leading to the evolution of the now renowned Southern Poverty Law Center. Young readers will learn about some of the notable events of those times - the rise and fall of Alabama 36 WASHINGTON LAWYER * SEPTEMBER 2016 * Governor George Wallace and the extraordinary leadership of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Dees' story is less familiar. He was a local boy who seemed unlikely to grow into a heroic figure. He came from a rural background, lived easily among the denizens of his local culture, and focused on making money and cruising on his motorcycles. He went to law school and gradually revolted from the segregationist society around him. Dees wanted a way to close down the KKK rather than merely cope with its individual violent acts of terrorism through individual criminal trials. To do so, he would have to prove a pattern of violence by the United Klans of America, whose "customs, practices and policy was to advance the goal of white supremacy through violence," Leamer writes, and that the murder at the center of the book the natural consequence of the Klan's practices. In doing so, Dees bankrupted the Klan in a civil trial - something the prosecutions of individuals in criminal trials could never have accomplished. It was an innovative strategy that even Dees' team of lawyers thought unlikely to succeed. But Dees believed in the power of the law. Surrounded by security to guard him and his family, Dees proved himself to be a brilliant legal tactician. The trial gives tremendous insight into our judicial system - both past and present - as it provides a vivid history of racial conflict in America. Ronaldgoldfarb.com Photo: courtesy of William Morrow http://www.lawrocks.org http://www.Ronaldgoldfarb.com http://www.Ronaldgoldfarb.com http://www.dcbar.org/

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