News footage from 1989 has surfaced which shows Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups, acknowledging that the Confederate flag was part of his southern heritage.
“This is my home. I love this area. The Confederate flag that’s flying over that capitol today is just as much a part of my heritage as Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s march down 6th Avenue,” Dees tells an interviewer during the Nov. 5, 1989, dedication ceremony of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.
Dees was on hand to dedicate the SPLC-sponsored memorial to the civil rights workers and other key civil rights figures who were murdered by white supremacists during the 1950s and 1960s.
The video resurfaces amid a contentious debate over the Confederate battle flag. On Wednesday, the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the flag from the state capitol in Columbia. The vote was a response to the murders of nine black churchgoers in Charleston. The shooter, Dylann Roof, is an avowed white supremacist who often flew the Confederate flag.
The SPLC was among the groups calling for the flag’s removal. But the group and other organizations have called for even more action to scrub any vestige of the flag and of the Confederacy.
Companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon have removed all products depicting the battle flag. The cable network TV Land pulled re-runs of “Dukes of Hazard” because the car featured in the show — named the General Lee — has a flag painted on its roof.
That push has sparked a debate over whether the flag is the symbol of racism and oppression or whether it can also signify southern heritage. Many southerners maintain that the flag does not signify support for slavery or anti-black racism. Rather, they say that it symbolizes southern history and culture.
During his 1989 remarks, Dees, who co-founded the SPLC in 1971 with Joseph Levin, Jr., seemed to lend at least some credence to the idea that the flag represents heritage.
But he did indicate in his remarks — and in a lawsuit several years later — that he was not a supporter of the flag.
“I’m not binded to the past by that, and I’m not blinded to the future,” he said during the interview. “I want to move forward.”
In 1993, Dees represented several Alabama lawmakers in a lawsuit that forced then-Gov. Guy Hunt to remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the capitol dome in Montgomery. It had been placed there in 1963 by George Wallace, the state’s pro-segregation governor, in defiance of the civil rights movement.
“Hunt’s support of the [Confederate] flag was just an extension of his racist campaign,” Dees told USA Today in 1993.
A request for comment placed to the SPLC was not immediately returned.