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Tuesday, March 26 US News

Civil rights organization announces dismissal of founder

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a nationally known nonprofit that monitors hate organizations, said Thursday it had fired co-founder Morris Dees, who once won a lawsuit that bankrupted a leading Ku Klux Klan group.

A statement by Richard Cohen, the president of the law center, said Dees' employment had been terminated, but it did not give a specific reason.

"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. 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," it said.

Reached by telephone, Dees said the matter involved a personnel issue but did not elaborate. He said he wished the center well.

"I think the Southern Poverty Law Center is a very fine group and I devoted nearly 50 years of my life to it and I'm proud of its work," Dees said.

"About being fired, all I can say is it wasn't my decision and I wish the center the best."

Dees, 82, co-founded the Montgomery-based law center with a partner in 1971 as a watchdog for minorities and the underprivileged. A decade later he won a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, whose son was murdered by KKK members in Mobile.

The office of the SPLC was firebombed in 1983, and three Klansmen were later arrested and pleaded guilty. In 2017, tax records show, the organization had some $450 million in assets. It operates in a high-security building near the church where the Rev. Martin Luther Jr. first served as a pastor.

The law center is best known for tracking groups it considers hate organizations and is a frequent target of conservative and far-right critics.

Dees said he had not overseen the daily operations of the center for several years. A spokesman for the SPLC said Dees had transferred to an emeritus role and came into the office occasionally.

In a statement about Dees' ouster, the SPLC said it was "deeply committed to having a workplace that reflects the values it espouses — truth, justice, equity and inclusion, and we believe the steps we have taken today reaffirm that commitment."

Dees' biography appeared to have been removed from the organization's website.

The SPLC said an outside group will review its workplace practices.

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