As late as 1972, there was not a single African American Alabama state trooper in a state that is one-quarter black. African Americans were refused jobs as troopers, but were easily hired as janitors. The SPLC filed suit, challenging the state's blatant racial discrimination.
In the early 1970s, several private segregated academies were allowed to use public recreational facilities in Montgomery, Ala., for football and baseball games – a practice that meant taxpayers were subsidizing these all-white schools as the public school system was being integrated. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court finding the city’s practice unconstitutional.
The SPLC rectified a 20-year injustice in 1972 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.
A married female Air Force officer sued the U.S. Department of Defense to secure the same benefits enjoyed by married male officers. The Center's historic challenge led to a landmark Supreme Court decision, the first successful sex discrimination lawsuit against the federal government.
"Dehumanizing." "Intolerable." "Grossly deficient." These were some of the words a federal judge used to describe conditions at Alabama's mental health facilities in the 1970s. Center attorneys worked with others for years to bring Alabama into compliance with the minimum standards of care ordered by the judge.
This suit forced Alabama to reapportion its state legislature and discard the voting system that diluted the voting strength of African Americans. The result was the adoption of single-member districts and the 1974 election of 17 black legislators.
When Montgomery, Alabama, closed its public parks and pools rather than integrate them, the local YMCA took over the city's recreational needs. As the YMCA continued to exclude blacks, Center co-founder Morris Dees sued and won a landmark court order that forced the YMCA to integrate its programs.
Three young North Carolina black men once sentenced to die for the rape of a white woman were freed from prison in 1975 under a settlement negotiated by SPLC attorneys as their case went to trial a second time. They spent two years in the Edgecombe County jail in Tarboro, N.C., before gaining their freedom.