Thanks to an incredibly generous anonymous donation of $40 million, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is using the money to support a new generation of civil rights lawyers.
On Monday (January 18), the program was announced and is dedicated to pursuing racial justice across the South by putting 50 students through law schools nationwide. The scholarships require that the future lawyers commit to eight years of racial justice work in the South, starting with a two-year post-graduate fellowship in a civil rights organization.
"The donor came to us," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, according to CBS. "The donor very much wanted to support the development of civil rights lawyers in the South. And we have a little bit of experience with that."
The LDF has decades of experience backing civil rights lawyers since its 1940 founding by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to hold the position. During the civil rights era, Black people rarely had effective legal representation and Black students were often turned away from southern universities.
"While without question we are in a perilous moment in this country, we are also in a moment of tremendous possibility, particularly in the South," Ifill said. "The elements for change are very much present in the South, and what needs to be strengthened is the capacity of lawyering."
The NAACP LDF chose MLK Day to announce the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program, which was named for the Supreme Court Justice and Constance Baker Motley, an LDF attorney who wrote the initial complaint that led to the court’s Brown V. Board of Education ruling, which outlawed racial segregation in public schools. Motley later became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.
"Our country continues to be plagued with racial injustice, and we need Nonviolent Warriors who are prepared and equipped on all fronts to deal with it - especially on the legal front," the Rev. Bernice King said in a statement, according to CBS. "It will allow the LDF to make greater strides on behalf of the Black community for generations to come in the area of racial justice, just as they did during the movement led by my parents."
Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for NAACP LDF