The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) deeply mourns the passing of Lynn Walker Huntley. Ms. Walker Huntley was an accomplished civil rights lawyer, a beloved member of the LDF family, a tireless advocate for racial justice and key architect of philanthropic support for civil rights and social justice.
Although Ms. Walker Huntley is known to many for her illustrious career in philanthropy, her early career was forged as a civil rights lawyer at the LDF, joining Elaine Jones – who became a lifelong friend and later LDF’s 4th Director-Counsel – among a cadre of brilliant young woman attorneys in LDF’s Columbus Circle offices. It was fitting that Ms. Walker Huntley would follow in the footsteps of Judge Constance Baker Motley, the exceptional former LDF litigator for whom Ms. Walker Huntley clerked on the Southern District of New York.
Ms. Walker Huntley’s litigation docket spanned cases involving prison reform, the death penalty, desegregation and employment discrimination. Ms. Walker Huntley successfully litigated cases such as Rock, Boxil and Reeves v. New York Telephone, an action for damages for retaliation and discrimination against three black employees of the New York Telephone Company, and Brooks v. Wainwright M.D. Fla, a case challenging punishment of a prisoner for exercise of his First Amendment right to advocate for the formation of a prisoner labor union. She was also sole counsel in Collins v. Benjamin Ward, a wrongful death suit charging deliberate indifference to the medical and psychiatric needs of a deceased inmate who was teargassed.
Ms. Walker Huntley also served on the legal team in Jackson v. Georgia and Anderson v. State – in which death-sentenced prisoners were resentenced after their capital sentences were held unconstitutional. She also served on the team that litigated Guthrie v. Ault, a challenge to segregated living and dining facilities at a prison in Georgia. Perhaps most notably, she participated in the landmark litigation in Furman v. Georgia, the only successful Supreme Court challenge to the death penalty as a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, leading to a temporary ban on the death penalty. Ms. Walker Huntley was a litigator at LDF from 1971-1973, and again from 1975-1978, serving as general counsel to the New York City Human Rights Commission in the interim.
After leaving LDF, Ms. Walker Huntley also served in key positions with the New York City Human Rights Commission and U.S. Department of Justice, and played an active role in legal networks and advocacy communities dedicated to sharing best practices and seeking criminal justice reforms on behalf of affected minorities, women, and children.
“The civil rights community has lost a great light – a model racial justice advocate with enormous vision,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “Women like Ms. Walker Huntley inspired generations of women lawyers and philanthropists who came after her. She dedicated her life to service of the vulnerable and forged a path to secure equal rights and greater opportunity for communities of color from the United States to South Africa and Brazil.”
At the Ford Foundation, where she served from 1982 to 1995, Ms. Walker Huntley rose from program officer to Director of the foundation’s Rights and Social Justice Program, helping to build the capacity of racial justice organizations in the United States and around the world. From 1995 to 2010, Ms. Walker Huntley developed and led programs to advance primary and secondary education for low-income students of color at the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta (SEF). As Program Director, she created and directed SEF’s Comparative Human Relations Initiative, a study of race, poverty and inequality in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States. She became President of SEF in 2002.
A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University School of Law where she was the first African-American woman to serve as an editor of the Columbia Law Review, Ms. Walker Huntley received many accolades during her career, including the Thurgood Marshall Award of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and honorary doctorates from Cambridge College and Allen University. Ms. Walker Huntley remained close to LDF, serving as chair of our Strategic Planning effort in the late 1990s. During this time, Ms. Walker Huntley facilitated the creation of a special LDF task, consisting of legendary social justice leaders from around the country. The task force was charged with ensuring that LDF’s programs remained responsive to African-American communities. Through a series of strategy sessions beginning in 1998, the task force culminated in guidance that shaped LDF’s principles and strengthened its mission. Ms. Walker Huntley also advised Director-Counsels and staff on the comparative international dimensions of our domestic civil rights work.
She is survived by her husband and brother, four beloved nieces, and several grand nieces and nephews. LDF extends its heartfelt condolences to her family and loved ones.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.