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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union honors the memory of civil rights lawyer Charles Morgan, Jr. who died today of complications from Alzheimer's disease. Morgan became the first Director of the ACLU's Southern Regional Office in 1964 and served as the ACLU Washington Legislative Director in the 1970s. He was 78.
During his tenure at the ACLU, Morgan was involved in many landmark civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, including Reynolds v. Sims, which applied the principle of "one person, one vote" to legislative redistricting.
"Chuck was unlike any lawyer I have ever known," said Laughlin McDonald, the current Director of the Southern Regional Office and the first staff attorney hired by Morgan. "He paid attention to precedent and the details that are an inevitable part of a lawyer's work, but for him, the inherent principles of the Constitution were what really mattered, and the briefs he wrote and the arguments he made reflected that."
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Morgan fought the city's segregationist leaders in the early 1960s. After losing his law practice for condemning the church bombing in 1963 that caused the death of four young black girls, Morgan opened the Southern Regional Office of the ACLU in Atlanta the next year.
Under Morgan's leadership, the office undertook two major civil rights initiatives. The first was Operation Southern Justice, designed to desegregate the administration of justice in the South. That meant bringing lawsuits challenging the exclusion of blacks from grand and trial juries. It also meant representing black death row inmates who had been indicted, convicted and sentenced to death by all-white juries. Operation Southern Justice secured an historic victory in the Supreme Court, Washington v. Lee, which held that the racial segregation of prisons and jails in Alabama was unconstitutional. This ruling led to the desegregation of prisons, jails and county road gangs throughout the South.
A second initiative of the Southern Regional Office was the ACLU Voting Rights Project. Morgan argued Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court case that dramatically altered the political landscape and ended the rural South's dominance of state politics. The Voting Rights Project continues its work today challenging a variety of practices that dilute the voting strength of racial minorities in the South, as well as American Indians in the West and Natives in Alaska.
Morgan also represented high profile clients in other cases, including civil rights leader Julian Bond and Muhammad Ali.
"Morgan believed one of the shortcomings of our country was that the government did not trust the people," said Neil Bradley, Associate Director of the Southern Regional Office who was also hired by Morgan. "He focused on providing equality on juries and in elections because in his words, 'the jury box and the ballot box are the only places where citizens can tell their government what to do, and the government has to listen.'"
In 1972, Morgan left the Southern Regional Office to join the ACLU Washington Legislative Office where he served as its Director until 1977.