The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr. in August 1971 as a law firm originally focused on issues such as fighting poverty, racial discrimination and the death penalty in the United States. Civil Rights leader Julian Bond, at 31, was SPLC’s first president. Bond passed August 15, 2021.
Today, at 50, the SPLC has new leadership and the organization is steering a new course – staying true to its values but fine-tuning its mission and its strategies to work more collaboratively with grassroots partners across the South. In 2020, the SPLC adopted a new mission statement: “The SPLC is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.”
As it did so often in the past, the SPLC has launched new initiatives to meet the day’s most pressing challenges – to confront hate and build trust in democratic ideals; to create a fair and equitable criminal justice system and end mass incarceration; to expand access to the ballot and eliminate discriminatory barriers to voting; to promote a just, humane and welcoming immigration system; to promote health, safety and fairness in the workplace, schools and communities; and to promote opportunity and combat discrimination in schools and the workplace.
Margaret Huang, the new President and CEO of SPLC, is pushing the initiative,Vote Your Voice to to help grassroots groups, primarily in five Southern states, build capacity and scale up their civic engagement and voter mobilization efforts. She says, “This work is incredibly important right now, because we know that the ballot box is the key to leveling the playing field in the South and finally emerging from the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow,” But, now, especially since the historic election in 2020, we’re seeing a strong resurgence of state efforts to suppress the votes of communities of color and turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made.”