The keynote speaker at the event was Harwich attorney William Crowell, who has been a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for the last 18 years.
Two years ago, Crowell
decided to visit the SPLC headquarters in Montgomery, Ala., which sits in what was the epicenter of the civil rights movement, less than a half mile from landmarks like the state capital, the Greyhound bus terminal, the Dexter Avenue Church
, and the place where Rosa Parks was arrested for not yielding her bus seat to a white person.
For a person looking to learn more about the civil rights movement, there is no better place than Montgomery, Crowell
has two major approaches to fighting discrimination and hate: filing civil lawsuits against groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and distributing a "teaching tolerance" program for use in school systems around the country.The SPLC headquarters was burned down once, and the attorneys-who are paid by donations, not legal fees-regularly face death threats.To Crowell
, who runs a practice of real estate law, it's hard to imagine.
"These lawyers are very courageous," he
Traveling alone to the Deep South was "a little bit intimidating," Crowell
said.In a Starbucks coffee shop at the Atlanta airport, he
noticed a distinguished Black man who looked familiar.On a hunch, he
later spoke to the woman with whom the man was speaking, and confirmed that it was civil rights leader and NAACP President Julian Bond.The man, she
, is her
husband, and he
was conferring with her
about a speech he
was about to give at the SPLC headquarters.
Later, Bond invited Crowell
to share a ride to his hotel.
a white, New England conservative lawyer," Crowell
said with a chuckle.But the two did strike up a conversation, discussing whose alma mater had the more beautiful campus.The important lesson was that Bond made an effort to reach out to Crowell
"to make me feel comfortable."
also attended a service at the Dexter Avenue Church
, where Dr. King was pastor.
Seated on either side of Crowell
were people of color.There, during the prayer portions of the service, as is the custom, the worshipers all held hands.
"That really had a powerful effect on me," he
Seeing the SPLC headquarters, hearing Bond speak, and seeing the various civil rights landmarks in Montgomery all were powerful experiences, Crowell
said.But in retrospect, the most meaningful parts of the trip were his
encounters with strangers with whom he
had little in common.
"That was a glimpse, for me, of what Martin Luther King was talking about: the promised land," Crowell