In 1988, only 11 of Alabama's 223 trial judges were black. The Center sued to end a system denying racial minorities the chance to elect judicial candidates of their choice. The federal district court disagreed, upholding a voting system found unfair in other states.
On Christmas Day 1987, Loyal Garner, a black man who had never been in trouble with the law, was beaten to death in an East Texas jail after being arrested on a traffic charge. After a state court jury acquitted the three implicated in the killing, the SPLC won financial security for Garner’s widow and six children in a federal civil rights action. Evidence uncovered by SPLC investigators led to the subsequent criminal conviction of the three lawmen.
"Black and white together" is one of verses of the famous civil rights hymn, "We Shall Overcome." But when blacks and whites marched together in all-white Forsyth County, Georgia, in 1987, they were greeted with Klansmen throwing rocks and shouting racial slurs.
On March 20, 1981, members of the United Klans of America abducted a young African-American man at random, put a noose around his neck, beat him, cut his throat and hung his body from a tree. The Center sued the Klansmen and won an historic $7 million judgment.
In the mid-1980s, a North Carolina Klan group was one of the most militant and violent, engaging in paramilitary-style training, using U.S. military personnel to prepare recruits for combat. After a series of terrorizing incidents, the Center sued the Klan and won court orders shutting down their illegal training camps.
For years, unmined coal in Kentucky was virtually exempt from taxation, leaving Kentucky's public schools and other services grossly underfunded. Fair tax advocates worked with the Center to file suit challenging Kentucky's unfair tax system, resulting in improved regulations.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sought a permanent injunction in 1982 to stop operators of the church-run Bethesda Home for Girls from physically and emotionally abusing the "wayward" girls sent to them for care and instruction.
Armed men in Klan robes spewed hate-filled threats, burned crosses and destroyed shrimp boats. White fishermen, fearful of competition from Vietnamese immigrants, invited the Klan to Galveston Bay, Texas. The Center sued and brought an end to their illegal activities, including paramilitary training camps.
In 1979, over 100 Klan members attacked Decatur, Alabama marchers protesting the conviction of Tommy Lee Hines, a retarded black man accused of rape. After a ten-year fight, the Center secured criminal convictions and financial compensation for the victims.
In 1977, Marie Von Hoffburg, a female service member of the United States Army, was discharged due to her alleged sexual orientation. The Southern Poverty Law Center appealed the decision on her behalf alongside the American Civil Liberties Union.