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Charles Morgan Jr., 78; was famed civil rights era lawyer

CHARLES MORGAN JR. CHARLES MORGAN JR.
Associated Press / January 12, 2009
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Charles Morgan Jr., a civil rights era lawyer from Alabama who represented Julian Bond and Muhammad Ali and argued for the "one man, one vote" principle that redrew political maps, died Thursday. He was 78.

Family members said Mr. Morgan, who was known as Chuck, died at his home in Destin, Fla., of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

A native of Birmingham who fought that city's segregationist leaders in the early 1960s, Mr. Morgan opened the American Civil Liberties Union's Southern Regional office in Atlanta in 1964 and became legislative director of the ACLU's national office in Washington, D.C., in 1972.

In an Alabama reapportionment case known as Reynolds v. Sims, he won a 1964 US Supreme Court ruling that required voting districts to be equal in population, a blow to the political power of rural legislators who until then dominated the State House.

"It ended gerrymandering," said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery. "It became a bedrock principle for voting rights. It changed the complexion of the South and the country."

The case was one of a handful that made the "one man, one vote" principle part of federal law and protected the political voice of voters in growing urban centers.

Mr. Morgan's legal career with the ACLU included several important civil liberties cases of the 1960s. He successfully appealed to the US Supreme Court in 1966 on behalf of Bond, a black political leader who was refused a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives because of a statement opposing the Vietnam War.

"He was a giant who remade the South through the courtroom as Martin Luther King remade it through marching feet," Bond, the current chairman of the NAACP's national board, said Thursday.

Mr. Morgan was part of the Ali legal team that successfully appealed to the US Supreme Court after the heavyweight boxing champion was convicted of draft evasion in 1967. Ali was stripped of his world title when he cited his religious beliefs in refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

Mr. Morgan also represented high-profile antiwar defendants including Army Captain Howard Levy, a physician court-martialed in 1967 for refusing to train Green Berets for service in Vietnam. He wrote "One Man One Voice" about his experiences from 1964 to 1976.

"He was like Forrest Gump. He intersected with all these turning points in history," said Diane McWhorter, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama - The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution."

Mr. Morgan worked with the ACLU in Washington for several years, but left to form his own firm in 1977 after disagreements with the agency. His client list raised eyebrows among some liberals - he did legal work for former attorney general John Mitchell, trying unsuccessfully to reduce his prison term for Watergate crimes.

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