In 1971, lawyers Morris Dees and Joe Levin created the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a civil rights law firm. SPLC’s first president was Julian Bond, who is well known for his civil rights work. Bond currently serves on the board of directors. Today, this nonprofit organization is known across the world for its work tracking hate and extremist groups, litigating cases involving white supremacists, and providing educational resources on acceptance through its teaching arm, Teaching Tolerance.
SPLC’s Intelligence Project staff monitor the number and activity of white supremacist and other hate groups. This information is then provided on the organization’s website as well as disseminated to law enforcement and media. It is also shared with the public through SPLC’s quarterly magazine, Intelligence Report. Intelligence Project staff also serve as expert witnesses in trials involving hate crimes and at conferences, and they provide training to police, schools, and other interested community groups.
In the 1980s, SPLC helped win several anti-discrimination victories, including equal benefits for women in the armed forces, the establishment of more inclusive hiring practices for police in Alabama, an end to the involuntary sterilization of women receiving welfare, and reform of conditions in prisons and mental health facilities. Its staff have also addressed issues related to worker safety, tax equity, flying of the confederate flag at the Alabama state capitol, medical services for the poor, and equitable education for homeless children. In Nixon v. Brewer (a suit brought by SPLC), the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Alabama’s districting system was unfair and was not representing black voters. SPLC is currently working on projects related to immigrant justice and the school-to-prison pipeline.
In 1991, SPLC founded Teaching Tolerance as a means to prevent hate. Teaching Tolerance assists K-12 teachers by providing print and online resources for classroom use twice per year. Teaching Tolerance also provides free multimedia kits to educators on topics related to civil rights and anti-bias issues. These resources are used by more than 400,000 educators.
Teaching Tolerance’s website (www.tolerance.org) features a searchable index of classroom activities for all levels of the K-12 curriculum. Topics include gay rights, responding to bias in the school, understanding and accepting those with disabilities, environmental justice, and much more. The site also has links for parents that provide information on teaching tolerance in the home, as well as information specific to younger children and teens. Every year in November, Teaching Tolerance sponsors “Mix It Up Day” at lunch, for which it provides free materials and organizational resources for schools hosting the event; this activity is designed to get students to interact with others in the cafeteria. More than 10,000 schools participate in the event each year.
- Southern Poverty Law Center: http://www.splcenter.org/
- Teaching Tolerance: http://www.tolerance.org/