MLK speaker: Young lawyers must ‘think big’

In his Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address to the Elon Law community, alumnus Dave Morrow '07 L'10 highlighted three attorneys whose legal work with the slain civil rights leader helped shape a nation in ways still felt today.

Fred Gray. Clarence Jones. Mike Cody. Each served as legal counsel at one time to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Gray defended King from trumped-up charges of tax evasion, winning an acquittal from an all-white Alabama jury. Jones delivered King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” to eight clergymen critical of local protests and he later helped draft King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Cody was on the Memphis legal team working to lift an injunction on peaceful protests the day King died.

What did they all have in common? As Elon University double alum David L. Morrow II ’07 L’10 points out, they were all early in their legal careers when they met King, and they all followed a moral compass at a time in history when public opinion was not on their side.

Jones and Gray, two of only a handful of black lawyers in the United States during the Civil Rights Era, also didn’t allow racism and systemic bias in the legal profession deter them from using their education to affect change.

“Our profession definitely has its own history, but thankfully, we don’t have to be products of our history,” Morrow told his Greensboro audience on Wednesday at Elon Law’s 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address. “We have choices, and I have chosen to be a social engineer.”

Dave Morrow ’07 L’10 speaks with Kelby Hicks L’20 following Elon Law’s 2020 MLK Keynote Address.

Morrow’s January 22 talk, “People of Conviction: A Lawyer’s Obligations,” encouraged students to use their youth and idealism to tackle society’s biggest challenges. Citing King’s lawyers, Morrow pressed the point that older generations have never been change-makers in the cause of justice.

Don’t wait on other people to tell you what to do, he added.

“Think big. Bigger than Elon. Bigger than Greensboro,” Morrow said. “Think about how you can shape the lives of the people around you with the skills you’re learning here today. This school, especially this school, has uniquely equipped you for the tasks at hand. Don’t waste your talents. Be people of conviction.”

Now living in Los Angeles, Morrow is a nationally recognized attorney, journalist and genealogist. He is a contributing writer and special legal correspondent for the American Bar Association Young Lawyer Magazine where he has covered the NBA All-Star Games and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and writes regularly about the intersection of pop culture, race and the law.

He also speaks regularly about diversity in the legal profession and recently served as the inaugural director of the Men of Color Project for the American Bar Association.

Assistant Professor Tiffany Atkins L’11 thanked Dave Morrow ’07 L’10 for his remarks in the waning moments of Elon Law’s 2020 MLK program on January 22, 2020.

Morrow’s visit was part of a broader series of Elon University programming to commemorate King’s work. The theme of the university’s 2020 celebration, “The American Dream,” was inspired by King’s essay of the same name presented at Drew University on Feb. 5, 1964.

In the speech, King cited racism, segregation, discrimination and violence as major deterrents to actualizing the American Dream for all. Elon’s 2020 MLK Jr. Celebration focused on anti-racism as essential in practice for democracy and the advancement of American society.