NAACP Legal Defense Fund seeks to aid next generation of civil rights lawyers

"As we have seen over the last several months, our democracy requires vigilant protection, particularly for Black communities in the South," said NAACP Legal Defense Fund president, Sherrilyn Ifill.

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The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is investing in young civil rights lawyers through its Marshall-Motley Scholars Program. The organization has awarded 10 outstanding recipients with scholarships that cover law school tuition and housing, and provide internships and other special training opportunities, NPR reports.

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The new program launched in Jan. 2021. 

“As we have seen over the last several months, our democracy requires vigilant protection, particularly for Black communities in the South, which have yet to realize the full and unqualified protection of this nation’s laws and ideals,” said NAACP Legal Defense Fund president, Sherrilyn Ifill

“The inaugural MMSP cohort, and those that will follow it, will play a key role in addressing these constantly evolving threats to democracy and justice.” 

Judge Thurgood Marshall (left) with Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States, following Marshall’s appointment as a member of the Supreme Court, (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The program is named for Thurgood Marshall, who became the first Black Supreme Court Justice in 1967, and Constance Baker Motley, who was the first Black woman to be elected as a New York State senator, Manhattan borough president, and a federal court judge. The NAACP announced the recipients on the 67th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which desegregated public schools.

Marshall served as the lead attorney in the case. 

The 10 Marshall-Motley inaugural class members all hail from the South, specifically Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas. Their geographic origins reflect the illustrious civil rights organization’s intention to invest in legal and racial justice advocacy in the region. 

Constance Baker Motley pictured with husband Joel Motley (Walter Albertin, Public Domain)

A press release from the NAACP also notes that the class includes former White House, Congressional Black Caucus, ACLU and Equal Justice interns, Black Student Union presidents, the youngest ever NAACP board member, accomplished educators, and prestigious fellowship recipients. 

“We are thrilled to welcome the inaugural cohort of the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program into the LDF family and to assist in their development as civil rights attorneys who will advance the rights of Black people in the United States well into the future. Our first 10 Scholars are brilliant, dedicated leaders eager to serve the communities of the South,” said LDF director-counsel, Janai Nelson. 

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Private law school costs have soared by 175% since 1985 and student loans place a disproportionate burden on lawyers of color, according to the American Bar Association. Over the next five years, the NAACP will sponsor the educational journeys of a total of 50 scholars through the program. 

“Congratulations to the inaugural Marshall-Motley Scholars – an impressive collection of brilliant young minds and inspiring future leaders. Their passion for their communities and readiness to do the hard work of racial justice are clear,” said Joel Motley, son of Judge Constance Baker Motley.

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