News Release

New Fellowship to Provide Crucial Civil Rights Training for Early-Career Lawyers


Gretchen Wright,, (202) 421-5830 for the Southern Education Foundation

Ashley Levett,, (334) 956-8459 for the Southern Poverty Law Center

June 29, 2021 (Atlanta, GA)–The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today announced a joint fellowship program to help early-career attorneys develop the skills and experience they need to advance education equity through research, policy analysis, and litigation. The goal is to build a pool of in-house legal staff to support efforts to increase educational opportunities for students of color and students from low-income families in the southern states.

The fellowship is named for SEF’s first female president, Lynn Walker Huntley, who, over the course of her career, was also a civil rights attorney and a foundation program officer. Walker Huntley, who passed away in 2015, held positions as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; chief and deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; and program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Program. Among Walker Huntley’s many achievements were representing the plaintiffs in the landmark Furman v. Georgia Supreme Court case abolishing the federal death penalty and securing financial support for the award-winning PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize.

SEF and SPLC will begin accepting applications for the fellowship in September 2021 and the legal fellow’s tenure will begin in 2022. Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellows will concentrate their activity in five key states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. One fellowship will be granted each year and the fellow will be situated in the SEF headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

“The events of the past year clearly show that the United States has a long way to go to achieve racial equity, including in education,” said SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang. “Racial and economic disparities in education undermined students’ ability to learn when schools were forced to close their doors and turn to remote learning. At the same time, our nation faced a historic racial reckoning. This fellowship comes at precisely the right moment in our history.”

The Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellow will:

  • assist in developing and implementing strategies to advance education equity policies at local, state, regional, and national levels;
  • research and identify education issues to advance through legislation or litigation at the regional and national levels; and
  • hold advocacy trainings for SEF staff and other equity-minded stakeholders.

At the conclusion of the fellowship, each fellow will produce a report or project describing the progress made on a key education equity issue as a result of their contributions.

“Education and civil rights are inextricably linked,” said SEF President and CEO Raymond Pierce. “Without education equity, we will not achieve racial or income equity in the United States. This fellowship, which honors one of our nation’s finest lawyers, philanthropists, and civil rights advocates, will help to build a pipeline of civil rights attorneys equipped to engage in the research, analysis, policy work, and litigation necessary to advance education equity and students’ civil rights.”

The fellowship is supported by SEF, SPLC and the Ford Foundation. Members of the fundraising committee include:

  • Alvin Brown, former Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida
  • Karen Baynes Dunning, former Interim President of the Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Wade Henderson, immediate Past President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Margaret Huang, President and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • Gay Johnson McDougall, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Leitner Center on International Law and Justice at Fordham University Law School
  • Deval Patrick, former Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Raymond C. Pierce, President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation
  • Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Ted Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and the Director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights
  • Michael W. Tyler, Partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP.

“Lynn Walker Huntley was a trailblazer and a role model for civil rights attorneys and social justice philanthropists,” said Sherrilyn Ifill. “This fellowship honors her by providing young attorneys who will undertake the education equity and school desegregation work to which she was committed.”

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Originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South, the Southern Education Foundation also has a long history of developing leaders in education and was a pivotal source of research and data to support legislation and litigation aimed at fighting inequity in education during the civil rights era. The organization today conducts leadership development, research, and advocacy to improve educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color and achieve educational equity in the Southern U.S. It is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more at

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit