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Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

The Southern Poverty Law Center is internationally recognized for its groundbreaking leadership in seeking justice for the most vulnerable in our society and fighting hate in courtrooms and classrooms throughout the nation.

Founded 47 years ago by attorneys Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr., the Southern Poverty Law Center began as a small law firm working to help implement federal civil rights legislation and constitutional guarantees. Early cases resulted in the desegregation of public recreational facilities, the reapportionment of the Alabama legislature, ended the involuntary sterilization of women on welfare, and the integration of the Alabama State Troopers.

Innovative trial strategies to shut down white supremacist organizations and combat injustice are part of the SPLC's ongoing legacy. We have toppled notorious hate groups with remarkable monetary damages. But with a record number of active hate groups operating in the U.S., this work is far from over. Since 1981, investigators from SPLC's Intelligence Project have worked hand-in-hand with civil rights attorneys to secure justice for hate crime victims targeted by domestic terrorism. SPLC civil suits have resulted in judgments against a dozen major white supremacist organizations (like the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations and the United Klans of America) and against 46 individuals for their roles in hate crimes. Intelligence Project research also has led to criminal convictions in several hate crime cases.

In addition to our investigative work, the Intelligence Project publishes the quarterly Intelligence Report, which exposes the activities of the radical right and is made available free to members of Congress, the media, human rights workers, and law enforcement agencies.

Ten years later, the SPLC expanded its efforts to fight hate with the launch of a new project, Teaching Tolerance. The program's free tolerance education materials and award-winning, self-titled magazine is sent to more than 450,000 educators nationwide. Teaching Tolerance multimedia kits are used by hundreds of thousands of classrooms across the country.

Teaching Tolerance has earned accolades from a variety of organizations, including three Oscar nominations, two Academy Awards, and more than 25 honors from the Association of American Publishers, including two Golden Lamp Awards, the industry's highest honor.

The SPLC’s legal docket focusses on seeking to advance equality and social justice in five priority areas:

  • Immigrant Justice: We address the unique legal needs of migrant workers, a group particularly vulnerable to workplace abuse, and help the children of immigrants gain access to a quality education. Our newest initiative, the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, started in response to the increase of raids targeting immigrant communities.  It seeks to ensure every immigrant held in detention facilities in the Southeast has access to free legal representation.

  • LGBT Rights: We're working in the courts to ensure that LGBT people achieve full equality under the law. We’re particularly worried about the rolling back of hard-fought protections for the LGBT community.

  • Economic Justice: We are fighting back against deeply engrained policies and practices that exploit or punish the poor simply because of their economic status. Our work focusses on ending debtors’ prison in the Deep South, as well as seeking systemic reforms in bail and other court debt related issues. 

  • Criminal Justice: We are working to reform the criminal justice system so it operates fairly and equitably, so that those involved with it are treated with dignity and humanity, and so the prison population is reduced. 

  • Children’s Rights: We are working to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to access quality public education, including services for mental health and disabilities. We’re also working to end exclusionary policies that push children through the school-to-prison pipeline.