Dees was born and raised in Alabama, co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center and spent his life fighting for civil rights.
One of his early cases resulted in the desegregation of the all-white YMCA in Montgomery, Alabama.
As the chief trial attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Dees won a landmark case against the United Klans of America in 1987. The $7 million lawsuit held Klansmen responsible for the lynching of a black man and financially crippled the country's largest Ku Klux Klan organization, according to the university.
Willie Mays was inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951 at age 20 and came to San Francisco with the Giants in 1958, where he started the "Willie Mays Say Hey Foundation."
The foundation has provided college scholarships to underprivileged youth, according to the university.
The honorary degrees will be presented at the university's 108th Commencement ceremony May 23, where Dees will be the keynote speaker.