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SPLC History: 1970s

1970 – A federal court rules that the Montgomery, Ala., YMCA must end its policy of racial discrimination. SPLC co-founder Morris Dees filed the case, Smith v. YMCA, after two black children were turned away from a YMCA summer camp. 

1971 – Morris Dees and Joe Levin formally incorporate the SPLC. Julian Bond is named as its first president. 

1972 – In Selmont Improvement District et. al. v. Dallas County Commission et. al., the SPLC rectified a 20-year injustice when a federal court ordered the paving of 10 miles of streets in an unincorporated black neighborhood near Selma in Dallas County, Ala. The new streets had to be equal in quality to those installed free in adjacent white neighborhoods in 1954.

1972 – A federal court accepts the SPLC’s reapportionment plan for the Alabama Legislature. It is later affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The plan followed the SPLC’s Nixon v. Brewer lawsuit that claimed blacks were underrepresented. Seventeen black lawmakers are elected to the Alabama Legislature in 1974, the first election after the reapportionment plan is adopted.

1973 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules in the SPLC's favor in the first successful sex discrimination case against the federal government, Frontiero v. Richardson. It rules the Department of Defense cannot grant certain benefits to dependents of servicemen but not to those of servicewomen.

1973 – The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a ruling banning the use of public recreational facilities by segregated private schools in Gilmore v. City of Montgomery. 

1974 – Three SPLC clients – Jesse Walston, Vernon Brown and Bobby Hines – are freed in August 1974 following two years in a North Carolina prison after being wrongfully charged with raping a white woman. The three black men, known as the Tarboro Three, faced death sentences.

1975 – SPLC client Joanne Little, a black inmate accused of murdering a white jail guard in North Carolina, is acquitted of murder. The guard was found dead in her cell without his pants. Little said he had tried to rape her.

1976 – A federal court rules Alabama prisons are “wholly unfit for human habitation” in Pugh v. Locke. SPLC attorneys work for more than a decade to force the state to bring the prisons up to constitutional standards.

1976 – The SPLC starts “Team Defense” to develop trial strategies for capital cases and share them with attorneys across the U.S. at seminars and in SPLC-published manuals.

1977 – The U.S. Supreme Court opens the door for women to be hired for law enforcement jobs traditionally held by men after ruling in favor of the SPLC in Dothard v. Rawlinson.

1977 – An SPLC lawsuit challenging sterilization abuse funded by the federal government is remanded to U.S. District Court for dismissal after federal officials withdraw the regulations challenged in the case, Relf v. Weinberger.

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