Fmr. Washington ACLU Director Laura W. Murphy (Photo Courtesy of

Civil rights leader Laura W. Murphy, the first African American and woman to serve as director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, has been designated by Harvard University as one of its 2016 Advanced Leadership Institute fellows.

The prestigious year-long fellowship, which was developed by Harvard faculty, draws persons from various disciplines with a track record of achievement and helps them redirect their talents to and develop necessary skills for a second career: solving systemic problems such as global poverty, education, environmental degradation and the like.

“Through the Advanced Leadership Initiative, Harvard is seeking to tap the experience of a socially conscious generation of leaders and help redirect and broaden their skills to fill critical leadership gaps in solving major social issues,” according to the institute’s website.

Murphy, who retired last January after 17 years at the helm of the D.C. ACLU, is the only African American among this year’s 48-member cohort, who hail from the U.S., China, India and South and Central America. Murphy’s influence has been felt in a broad range of civil liberties civil rights matters.

“Laura’s tremendous work on the First Amendment, national security, racial justice, and criminal justice reform has earned her a reputation as one of the most tenacious and effective advocates for civil liberties in the nation,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero when Murphy’s retirement was announced.

“Her ability to work across the political aisle and with all branches of government, her sharp political acumen, and her exceptional skill at forming and maintaining strong relationships with policymakers and advocacy leaders have helped make the ACLU a uniquely effective force in Washington. She will surely go down in history as a true champion of the rights of all people,” he said.

Murphy now serves as president of her consulting firm, Laura Murphy & Associates. According to a press release, Murphy’s focus as an institute fellow will be on establishing management training programs for current and budding advocacy leaders.

“In order to meet the continued challenges around racial justice and free speech, I am looking forward to utilizing the expertise of   the Harvard leaders involved in this exciting program,” said Murphy, who recently testified before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and worked with the Justice Department on police reform issues in Baltimore in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray. “The civil rights, civil liberties and human rights advocacy movements must make a greater investment in leadership development—especially for entry level and mid-career professionals from diverse backgrounds. I will use what I learn at Harvard to develop programs in the nation’s capital that will expand and strengthen the ranks of non-profit leaders who work on civil rights and civil liberties.”