Liberal watchdog group hires Amnesty director as new CEO

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The executive director of Amnesty International USA will take over as chief executive of the liberal watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center, which is trying to steady itself after months of turmoil that included the firing of its founder.

Margaret Huang, who has led Amnesty International for more than four years, will begin work in April at the Alabama-based nonprofit organization, which announced her hiring Monday.

The announcement came 11 months after the Southern Poverty Law Center fired its founder, Morris Dees, for unspecified reasons and its president, Richard Cohen, resigned. Other staffers also left, and the organization's employees voted to unionize in December.

The organization, which listed $492 million in assets on tax forms for 2018, said it has 350 employees in offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and the District of Columbia.

The announcement about Huang's hiring touted her experience as a leader in the area of human and civil rights.

“Change in the South is coming, and SPLC is eager to work collaboratively with other social justice advocates to ensure that the change improves the lives of all communities,” Huang said in a statement.

Karen Baynes-Dunning, a former judge, had served as head of the Southern Poverty Law Center on an interim basis.

Dees founded the organization with a partner in 1971 as a watchdog for minorities and the underprivileged. A decade later he won a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, whose son was murdered by KKK members in Mobile.

Following the firing of Dees, the group hired Tina Tchen, a one-time aide to former first lady Michelle Obama, to analyze its workplace practices.

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