The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that has waged legal battles against the Ku Klux Klan, apparently wants folks to separate its accomplishments from revelations about its long history of racism and sexism within the organization.
SPLC fired its co-founder and chief litigator Morris Dees on March 13 without giving a clear reason for his dismissal or addressing the widespread allegations against the organization.
Former and current employees have come forward to reveal a work environment that clearly contradicts the values SPLC has said it promotes.
Allegations of gender discrimination and racism go back decades according to more than two dozen current and former employees and board members, AL.com reported on Wednesday.
Donald Jackson, who was an intern at SPLC in 1987, said he came to the organization with expectations based on SPLC’s reputation that he soon learned was at odds with a workplace environment that was not always friendly to Black employees. He found it hard to reconcile the two sides of SPLC.
“They’ve done a lot of incredible things, very positive things, the Center and Morris as well,” said Jackson, who is African-American. But, he added, “Discrimination can sometimes have a liberal face. And so can racism.”
In a carefully worded press release last week announcing Dees’ removal, SPLC President Richard Cohen hinted at the problems when he said that the organization wanted to ensure that the staff’s conduct reflected SPLC’s mission and values.
“When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action,” the statement said.
The Montgomery, Alabama-based organization began in 1971 as a small firm dedicated to fighting racism and segregation. Since then, it has grown into one of the largest and most influential civil rights advocacy groups in the nation, with revenues in 2017 exceeding $120,000,000.
SPLC become well-known for winning a $7 million award in 1987 against the United Klans of America for the family of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old African-American man who was brutally murdered and then hanged by the domestic terrorist group.
Dees, 82, has publicly denied any inappropriate behavior.
Meanwhile, SPLC said the organization has taken “concrete next steps” to address its environment, including “bringing in an outside organization to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices.”