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Annual Report

2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

At the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges that underscored the importance of our mission. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed in stark terms the inequities in our society, such as those in health care and housing, in the workplace and in financial and educational systems. The presidential election demonstrated the need to protect voting rights and the power people have at the ballot box. And the murder of George Floyd by a police officer sparked historic demonstrations against longstanding — and deadly — racial injustice in our nation.

This annual report not only documents how the SPLC responded to the challenges of 2020 with the communities we serve, it also demonstrates how our work will remain vitally important in the coming years and decades. And I couldn’t be prouder of our work.

As you’ll read in this report, we responded to the pandemic on multiple fronts. We took action to protect people in jails and immigrant detention centers — confined spaces ideal for a virus outbreak. We protected the rights of children, urging school officials to ensure the needs of students are met and petitioning for the release of children from juvenile facilities.

Learning for Justice provided online training for educators, and the Civil Rights Memorial Center (CRMC), despite closing its doors amid the pandemic, continued its mission of teaching civil rights history by offering a virtual tour of the CRMC and an activity book for children. And amid an election year, we filed multiple lawsuits to ensure safe voting across the South.

But our work was not limited to responding to the pandemic.

Our Vote Your Voice initiative awarded the first $10 million of $30 million in grants to help nonpartisan, nonprofit voter outreach organizations. In December 2021, we announced a more-than-threefold increase in the Vote Your Voice grants to $100 million. We took action to combat voter suppression across the Deep South. And we looked beyond Election Day by issuing a bold, transformative agenda for the president — Vision for a Just Future.

Our Intelligence Project continued its mission by documenting 838 hate groups operating across the United States in 2020 in its annual Year in Hate and Extremism report. That was a decrease from the 940 groups documented in 2019 and the record-high 1,020 in 2018. However, the Intelligence Project found that far-right extremists are coalescing in a more broad-based, loosely affiliated movement that is harder to track and represents an increasingly dangerous threat. The SPLC also continued tracking the removal of public symbols of the Confederacy across the United States, finding that more than 160 Confederate symbols were removed in 2020.

After 30 years as Teaching Tolerance, our program that works with schools, students and communities across the nation re-examined its name and direction for the future. In early 2021, the new name — Learning for Justice — was announced, a name that reflects a heightened commitment to working alongside communities for justice in the South and beyond. In addition to the name change, the program will undergo several key changes to meet cultural shifts, such as expanding its target audience beyond K-12 educators.

Later in 2021, we hired Waikinya Clanton as our Mississippi state office director, allowing us to work more intentionally in partnership with people in that state to further our mission of dismantling white supremacy. The Mississippi office will be a model for state offices across the Deep South.

The SPLC’s legal work to protect children’s rights continued in 2020 with a successful lawsuit that stopped an attempt by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to use the pandemic as an excuse to issue a rule that threatened to transfer over $1 billion in emergency aid from public schools to private schools across the country.

Our immigrant justice work saw us fighting the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda that has separated families, dismantled the asylum system and weaponized immigration courts. We also held employers to account, taking legal action when they underpay and mistreat immigrant workers — sending a message not only to these employers, but also to others across the country.

Our criminal justice work continued pushing for reform and defending the rights of people entangled in the criminal justice system. In Alabama, our longstanding lawsuit challenging the inadequate mental health care in the state’s prisons saw a federal judge adopt a plan to monitor the state’s compliance in addressing the conditions.

The SPLC also defended LGBTQ rights in 2020, including suing the Georgia Department of Corrections for a second time on behalf of Ashley Diamond, a Black transgender woman. The lawsuit describes how the state failed to protect her from sexual assault and provide her with adequate health care while incarcerated.

Across the South, we fought for economic justice throughout the year. In February, a federal appeals court rebuked the Trump administration’s approval of work requirements for Arkansas’ Medicaid program following action by the SPLC and its allies. In Alabama, the SPLC and the ACLU announced a settlement agreement with the city of Montgomery in November after it agreed to stop arresting or ticketing people who panhandle.

Our lobbying arm, the SPLC Action Fund, pursued legislative reform in the Southeast and in our nation’s capital. Whether it was pursuing the reforms outlined in Vision for a Just Future, or social justice issues in Southern communities, the SPLC Action Fund was there pushing for true reform that would make a difference in people’s lives.

Of course, we recognize that none of our achievements would be possible without the dedication of the talented people who work for the SPLC every day and remained committed to our mission even amid a pandemic.

It’s why we also worked in 2020 to ensure that we not only promoted the values of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in our work but also in our workplace. We have a JEDI manager, Rebecca Latin, who works as a partner with our staff to ensure the workplace aligns with our principles. As we’ve mentioned in the past, SPLC staff members have formed affinity groups. These are SPLC-recognized groups that allow employees to share experiences of race, national origin, gender identity or sexual identity. The SPLC is also developing managers across the organization to ensure we have a leadership team focused on moving the entire SPLC forward, rather than a team or department.

During 2020, we also received the findings of an independent analysis of the SPLC. It will inform our effort to transform our structure and culture. Among the recommendations are advice about leadership, internal and external communication and talent management.

It’s truly an exciting time at the SPLC as we celebrate our 50th year in 2021 and chart a path for the future. I’m deeply grateful for your support, which made all of the accomplishments in this annual report possible. On behalf of the SPLC, thank you for your support during 2020.


Margaret Huang
SPLC President and CEO

Read the report by clicking on the image below