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Southern Poverty Law Center Fires Co-Founder Morris Dees

Morris Dees in a Southern Poverty Law Center video (SPLC/via YouTube)

The Southern Poverty Law Center has fired co-founder Morris Dees, the group announced Thursday.

“As a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world,” SPLC president Richard Cohen said in a statement. “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.”

Dees, 82, co-founded the SPLC in 1971 and was its chief litigator.

The Montgomery Advertiser, reporting on the Alabama-based organization in 1994, flagged concerns about its practices in an eight-part series that later earned a Pulitzer nomination.

The SPLC tracks hate groups in the U.S. and works to prevent discrimination against minorities, but the Advertiser‘s series aired allegations of discrimination against black employees, who “accused . . . Dees, the center’s driving force, of being a racist.”

Dees was also criticized in the Advertiser‘s reports of being “more focused on raising money than fighting injustice” even though he was also “a figure seen as heroic by some.” The organization had $450 million in assets in 2017, according to tax records.

By Thursday the group had removed Dees’s biography from their website, but his name and a description of his role remain in the summary of the organization’s history.

The group promised to take “a number of immediate, concrete next steps,” including having a third party conduct a “comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices.” It did not specify what Dees had done to prompt his firing.

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