Somewhere in the world, some person or persons proved their commitment to the fight against racial injustice in America by donating $40 million to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The donation was made anonymously, so the civil rights organization doesn’t even know who to thank for their generous show of put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is energy, but it announced Monday that it’s using the donation to create a scholarship program to put 50 students through law school under the condition that they dedicate significant time to racial justice work, particularly, in the South.
The Associated Press reports that the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program is named for legendary Supreme Court Justice and LDF founder Thurgood Marshall, and for Constance Baker Motley, an LDF attorney who wrote the initial complaint that led to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling and later became the first Black woman federal judge.
With that whopping gift from a single anonymous donor, the fund plans to put 50 students through law schools around the country. In return, they must 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. “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.”
If you happen to be starting law school in the fall and have aspirations to fight the good fight from inside a courtroom, you want to apply for the scholarship as soon as possible. The fund has set an application deadline of Feb. 16, “reflecting the urgency of these times,” as AP reports.
“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,” Rev. Bernice King said in a statement supporting the program after it was announced on MLK Day. “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.”
Justice Marshall’s widow, Cecilia Marshall, said in a statement shared by the LDF that the fund is especially meaningful to her “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,” according to AP.
Judge Motley’s son, Joel Motley, said he’s excited that his late mother’s legacy will live on through “well-trained and committed litigators” who “will defend the rights of Black people across the South, dismantling the structures of white supremacy.”
Considering the fact that a week rarely goes by without stories of racial injustice filling our newsfeeds—stories that range from police brutality cases to racial profiling to the wrongful convictions of Black people who have already served years in prison—there’s no denying that America can make use of more civil rights attorneys.
As for the generous soul or souls who donated $40 million to the fund, whoever you are, we salute you.