The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund launched a $40 million scholarship program on Monday to support a new generation of civil rights lawyers, dedicated to pursuing racial justice across the South. With that whopping gift from a single anonymous donor, the fund plans to put 50 students through law schools around the country.

Indeed, the LDF has been backing civil rights lawyers ever since its founding by Thurgood Marshall in 1940, during an era when Black people rarely had effective legal representation and Black students were turned away from southern universities. It funded the creation of Black and interracial law firms in several southern states in the 1960s and 1970s, and has built a network of lawyers since then.

“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.”

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