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Southern Poverty Law Center



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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a human rights organization that tracks hate groups and their activities.

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm. Today, SPLC is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists and its tracking of hate groups.

Located in Montgomery, Alabama – the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement – the Southern Poverty Law Center was founded by Morris Dees and Joe Levin, two local lawyers who shared a commitment to racial equality. Its first president was civil rights activist Julian Bond.

Throughout its history, SPLC has worked to make the nation's Constitutional ideals a reality. The SPLC legal department fights all forms of discrimination and works to protect society's most vulnerable members, handling innovative cases that few lawyers are willing to take. Over three decades, it has achieved significant legal victories, including landmark Supreme Court decisions and crushing jury verdicts against hate groups.

In 1981, the Southern Poverty Law Center began investigating hate activity in response to a resurgence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Today the SPLC Intelligence Project monitors hate groups and tracks extremist activity throughout the U.S. It provides comprehensive updates to law enforcement, the media and the public through its quarterly magazine, Intelligence Report. Staff members regularly conduct training sessions for police, schools, and civil rights and community groups, and they often serve as experts at hearings and conferences.

To combat the causes of hate, SPLC in 1991 established Teaching Tolerance, an educational program to help K-12 teachers foster respect and understanding in the classroom. Teaching Tolerance is now one of the nation's leading providers of anti-bias resources – both in print and online. Its award-winning magazine is distributed free twice a year to more than 500,000 educators, and its innovative multimedia kits are provided at no charge to thousands of schools and community groups.

The Civil Rights Memorial, which celebrates the memory of those who died during the Civil Rights Movement, is located next to the Southern Poverty Law Center's offices. Designed by Vietnam Veterans Memorial creator Maya Lin, the striking black granite memorial draws thousands of visitors every year. The Memorial plaza is a contemplative area – a place to honor those killed during the struggle, to appreciate how far the country has come in its quest for equality, and to consider how far it has to go. A new Civil Rights Memorial Center, designed to enhance this experience, opened in October 2005.
- Source: About the Southern Poverty Law Center

Criticism of SPLC

In recent years the organization has increasingly been the subject of criticism -- not just from groups that feel they have been 'labeled' or 'targeted' unfairly, but also from people who believe the organization's listings are arbitrary, overly inclusive, or even politically motivated.

A recent editorial published by The Oklahoman, is illustrative. Under the heading, "SPLC 'hate group' listing merits a dose of skepticism," the paper

The Southern Poverty Law Center paints with the broadest possible brush in warning of the dangers of hate, extremist and “Patriot groups.” [...]

The SPLC and its founder, Morris Dees, earn money from donations fueled by its alarmist communications and from suing on behalf of the victims of hate crimes. The group's name — which includes the words “poverty law center” — is a clue to how far it's strayed from helping the economically disadvantaged in the South. Why stray? Sensationalism sells. It brings in more money for SPLC and its wealthy founder.

When the epithet “extremist” is thrown out too loosely, it cheapens the term — just as “racism” has been cheapened by inappropriate usage. If everything is racist, then nothing is racist.

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This post was last updated: May. 20, 2013