College Student

This program addresses the racial and economic barriers that often deter students from pursuing their dreams of becoming civil rights attorneys.

Legal Defense Fund Launches Groundbreaking Scholarship Opportunity

College Student
This program addresses the racial and economic barriers that often deter students from pursuing their dreams of becoming civil rights attorneys.

Marshall-Motley Scholars Program scholarship designed to create the next generation of civil rights attorneys to dismantle racial injustice and inequality in the South.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has launched this innovative educational and training opportunity that will build upon its legacy of fighting for racial justice in America and producing leading advocates against racial injustice. The MMSP demonstrates LDF’s ongoing commitment to the South, where the majority of its clients reside, and launches as LDF prepares to open its southern regional office in Atlanta this year.

“For 80 years, the LDF has been at the forefront of developing and supporting many of our nation’s legendary civil rights lawyers and leaders. 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,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel.

“The majority of African American people in this country still live in the South and continuously face impediments to voting, education equity, racial and economic justice. For this reason, LDF’s docket and litigation practice has always been rooted principally in the South. During the 1960s and early ’70s, LDF invested in the creation of Black law firms in the South, providing fellowships and start-up costs for the law practices of some of the most celebrated civil rights lawyers in the region, including former LDF President and Director-Counsel Julius Chambers, a legend among civil rights lawyers in North Carolina.

“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,” added Ifill.

Over the next two decades, the MMSP aims to support the education and training of 50 aspiring civil rights lawyers. The program will afford participants:

  • a full law school scholarship for tuition, room, board, and incidentals, to ease the debt burden that can prevent future lawyers from pursuing careers in racial justice;
  • summer internships to begin their training as civil rights lawyers early in their law school careers;
  • a two-year postgraduate fellowship at a national or regional civil rights organization with a racial justice law practice in the South to provide unprecedented access to professional development and skills-building, training and preparation; and
  • access to special trainings sponsored by LDF and the National Academy of Sciences.

In return, Scholars commit to practicing civil rights law in pursuit of racial justice in the South for at least eight years following the conclusion of their fellowship. Students beginning law school in the 2021 academic year are eligible to apply.

This program comes at a time when Black students are facing more barriers than ever to attend law school. As it currently stands, the cost of a private law school education has grown by a whopping 175% since 1985.

According to the American Bar Association, student loans are found to take a disproportionate toll on lawyers of color, often forcing them to take unwanted career paths. The support offered by this program is an intentional effort to address the racial and economic barriers that often deter students from pursuing their dreams of becoming civil rights attorneys.

Systemic racism remains a deeply ingrained part of American life, with widespread and far-reaching consequences, and there is a growing need for lawyers to help combat it. The MMSP is a response to the rampant inequality, racial injustice, and lack of resources that continues to plague the South and its African American communities.

Named in honor of civil rights legends Thurgood Marshall—LDF’s founder and the nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice—and Constance Baker Motley, former LDF attorney and the first Black woman to become a federal judge, this groundbreaking program will create pathways to leadership, self-sufficiency, and socio-economic progress, while developing individuals to become ambassadors and advocates for transformational change in African American communities.

The MMSP is made possible by a generous anonymous donor who has committed to funding a program of 50 participants, which amounts to a $40 million investment in developing a new generation of civil rights lawyers in the South.

“This announcement is especially meaningful to me because of Thurgood’s powerful partnership with lawyers across the South who served with him as co-counsel on so many consequential civil rights cases,” said Mrs. Cecilia Marshall, widow of the Hon. Thurgood Marshall. “Thurgood had tremendous respect for the uncommon courage and skill of these attorneys and he drew inspiration from these friendships throughout his life. This program is a wonderful recognition of the need to support the development of a new generation of local lawyers in the South who play such an important role in civil rights lawyering.”

“I want to thank the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, an organization my mother held dear, for honoring her and her longtime friend and colleague, Thurgood Marshall, with the creation of the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program. This is a significant event,” said Joel Motley, son of the Hon. Constance Baker Motley. “My mother was a fighter in a very tough struggle—one that continues today and will persist well into the future. I am grateful that the indelible mark that she left at LDF and on the broader civil rights landscape continues to inspire future generations of lawyers.”

To learn more about MMSP and/or to apply, please visit


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