In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund announced a new scholarship program designed to help 50 people get through law school and use their talents to help Black people across the South. 

Thanks to an anonymous $40 million donation, the organization was able to create the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program, which will provide funding for 50 students over the next five years to attend law school in exchange for spending two years in a post-graduate fellowship in a civil rights organization as well as eight years total working on racial justice work in the South. 

The scholarships will cover tuition costs as well as room and board.

"The goal here is to leave nothing to chance related to their ability to pay for law school, focus on their education and focus on getting the highest level of training possible so they can spend the time in the field once they get down to the South actually doing the work they're passionate about, and that's serving the community," Jino Ray, the program director, told NPR. 

NPR noted that the cost of law school has skyrocketed in recent years, growing by 175 percent since 1985, according to the Legal Defense and Educational Fund. 

“For 80 years, 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 Legal Defense and Educational Fund President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill 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. The donor came to us. 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," Ifill told CBS News. 

The program was named after Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley, one of the key legal minds behind the Civil Rights Movement who went on to serve in several pivotal government positions, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund explained in a statement on Twitter.  

"As deeply concerning recent events have made clear, there is much work to be done to ensure equal rights for Black Americans. This is the right time for LDF's investment in the MMSP, and I am delighted that future civil rights attorneys will carry forth my mother's legacy and continue the work she began as an LDF attorney," said Motley's son, Joel Motley, in a statement.

Marshall played a pivotal role in creating the Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1940, according to the organization, and it has long helped Black lawyers get their education while also creating space for Black lawyers at times when it was nearly impossible for them to get legal degrees, especially in the South. 

"During the 1960s, and early ‘70s, LDF invested in the creation of Black law firms in the American South, providing fellowships and start-up costs for the law practices of some of the most celebrated civil rights lawyers in the region," the group said in a statement. "The time is ripe once again for LDF to invest in the growth and development of civil rights lawyers in the South, where Black people continue to struggle against impediments to voting, education equity, and racial and economic justice."

Motley worked for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund before she went to Columbia University Law School and eventually wrote the complaint that led to Brown v. Board of Education. Motley's historic career included nine landmark wins in the Supreme Court and she ended up arguing 12 cases in front of the country's highest court, taking on some of the most pivotal civil rights cases in U.S. history.

She went on to become the first Black woman to serve as a United States District Judge and eventually worked as a state senator and Borough President of Manhattan in New York City. 

"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 Cecilia Marshall, Thurgood's widow.

The Legal Defense and Educational Fund is now involved in hundreds of cases centered around policing, education, racial injustice and much more. They played a pivotal role in defending the results of the 2020 election as Republican leaders specifically sought to throw away the votes of millions of Black people across the country. 

The organization also said it will open a new office in Atlanta, Georgia, to help support their work across the South. 

“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. That is why I wholeheartedly support the launch of the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund," said the Rev. Bernice King, Ph.D., CEO of the King Center.

"This momentous decision by LDF Leadership will help raise future advocates committed to becoming the champions needed to continue the battles in the courtrooms. Implementation of the MMSP is tantamount to a much-needed Succession Plan," King continued. "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."