Race & Identity
Southern Poverty Law Center Taps Former Juvenile Court Judge To Lead Organization Amid Allegations Of Racial Bias
Karen Baynes-Dunning will only be interim president until a successor is named.
Following the resignation of its president, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) named a former judge and board member to serve as its interim president.
Karen Baynes-Dunning was announced as the interim president on Tuesday amid the organization's transitional period. The former juvenile court judge served as a board member, court-appointed monitor for Georgia Department of Family and Children Services and runs a consulting firm in South Carolina.
According to AL.com, the news comes after a tumultuous shakeup among the SPLC senior leadership. Co-founder Morris Dees was fired for allegedly fostering an atmosphere of racial and gender discrimination.
Past employees alleged discrimination against Black employees existed over several decades. Black workers are not promoted, not hired and are treated unfairly according to allegations.
SPLC President Richard Cohen resigned from his post last month opening the door for Baynes-Dunning. The Alabama-based organization was founded in 1971.
For the past four decades, it has challenged white nationalism and championed civil rights. But the alleged history of discrimination ruins the reputation and goodwill of the organization.
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"It is an honor to be able to serve and help guide this vital institution in a time of needed growth and change," Baynes-Dunning said in a statement sent to Blavity. "As we look inward to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, our determination in fighting for justice and equality in this country and the communities we serve will not waver. The SPLC will always be a leader in tackling systemic and institutional racism and discrimination, combatting hate and extremism, and promoting anti-bias in our public schools."
CNN reports former first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, Tina Tichen, will oversee the review of the workplace culture. The SPLC will search for a permanent president once the review is complete. It is unknown whether the former judge will be in the running for the permanent position.
Cohen, the outgoing president for 16 years, said the two women will be instrumental in steering the ship in the right direction.
"Karen is an excellent choice to lead SPLC through the important work of Tina Tchen and her team as they help SPLC establish a workforce that reflects the organization’s values: justice, truth, inclusion and equity."
According to a report from CNN, Cohen dismissed Dees but did cite a reason for doing so. However, he said the 82-year-old was at the center of a previous investigation regarding misconduct.
“The work goes on, and we are excited about all that we can achieve with Karen at the helm,” Bryan Fair, the chairman of the SPLC Board of Directors, said in a statement.
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