For decades, the Legal Defense Fund’s (LDF) scholarship programs have provided financial assistance to those who had been denied access to higher education for generations. The Herbert Lehman Scholarship and the Earl Warren Scholarship guaranteed for many able Black undergraduate students and law students that the battles to end segregation in education would not be undermined by financial need. The mission of LDF’s scholarship program is to help transform the promise of racial equality into a social, economic, and political reality by supporting talented undergraduate students and law students.
In order to secure the hard-won gains of its watershed legal precedent, LDF created the Herbert Lehman Education Fund (the “Lehman Fund”) and the Legal Internship and Fellowship Program (the “Fellowship Program”) in 1964 to provide financial assistance to those who had been denied access to higher education for generations. Through their scholarship awards, the Lehman Fund and the Fellowship Program guaranteed for many able Black undergraduate students and law students that the battles to end segregation in education would not be undermined by financial need. Eight years later, as a successor to the Fellowship Program, LDF incorporated the Earl Warren Legal Training Program (the “Warren Program”) to cultivate future generations of attorneys dedicated to civil rights and public interest work. Additionally, the Warren Program sought to provide financial assistance for African-American students pursuing legal careers.
For over 50 years, LDF’s scholarship program has provided more than $5.5 million of financial support to over 1,950 students. It has supported numerous distinguished leaders, including Congressman James Clyburn, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Marion Wright Edelman (Founder and President, Children’s Defense Fund), the Honorable David Coar (United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois), and Nicole Austin-Hillery (Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice (D.C.)). The list continues to grow as LDF celebrates the recipients, supporters, and donors walking shoulder to shoulder to advance the mission of achieving racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society.
We are particularly grateful to the inaugural class of thirty-three African-American Herbert Lehman scholarship recipients who were among the first students of color to challenge an overtly hostile and often dangerous desegregated school system in the South. They were pioneers who overcame adversity and paved the way for generations of students of color to follow. Among them were Robert Anderson, Jr. (first African-American male student, University of South Carolina), Henri Monteith (first African-American female student, University of South Carolina), Harvey Gantt (first African-American student, Clemson University), Lucinda Brawley-Gantt (first African-American female student, Clemson University), Cleveland Donald, Jr. (second African-American graduate, University of Mississippi), Delores Johnson (first African-American graduate, Winthrop College), Harold A. Franklin (first African-American student, Auburn University), Sarah L. McCoy (first African- American female student, Northeast Louisiana State College), and Vivian J. Malone (first African-American graduate, University of Alabama).
Verna Bailey was among LDF’s first scholarship recipients. Bailey vividly recalls the severe hostility she experienced on campus. Her response was a powerful one. She completed her degree in three years and became the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Mississippi in 1968. Her story is one of the many triumphs from LDF’s long list of scholars.