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For 80 years, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has led several impactful initiatives centered on fighting for civil rights and addressing systemic injustice. The nonprofit is taking its efforts further by educating and empowering the next generation of changemakers. The organization recently launched a scholarship fund for aspiring civil rights attorneys dedicated to driving change in the South.

The fund—dubbed the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program—is inspired by the legacies of civil rights pioneers Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley. The two broke several barriers throughout their careers with Marshall—who founded LDF—becoming the nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice and Motley making history as the first Black woman to become a federal judge.

Through the program—which was designed to eliminate socio-economic barriers that stand in the way of students furthering their education—50 students pursuing careers in civil rights law will be awarded full scholarships, aligned with internships and fellowships to gain experience that will be instrumental in helping them lay a solid foundation for their careers and will receive access to courses organized by the LDF and the National Academy of Sciences. As part of the program, students must commit to practicing civil rights law in the South for eight years.

Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel, says the program will not only create career pathways for students but will also evoke change in Black communities. “The Marshall-Motley Scholars Program is the next phase of our commitment to identify and invest in a new generation of brilliant minds who have a deep personal desire to bring about racial justice in the South,” she said in a statement. “The majority of Black people in this country still live in the South and continuously face impediments to voting, education equity, and racial and economic justice. For this reason, LDF’s docket and litigation practice has always been rooted principally in the South. The time is ripe once again, for LDF to invest in the growth and development of civil rights lawyers in the South. With the MMSP, and the opening of our new regional office in Atlanta, LDF is deepening its longstanding presence in the South to help leverage the talent, passion, and commitment of a new cohort of civil rights attorneys dedicated to serving the majority of Black people in the country.” An anonymous donor gifted the nonprofit $40 million to fund the program.

LDF is known for driving change. During the historic 2020 election, the organization teamed up with LeBron James’ nonprofit More Than a Vote to recruit over 20,000 volunteer poll workers in an effort to address voter suppression.


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