Alumnus wins inaugural scholarship for aspiring civil rights attorneys

Markus Reneau
Markus Reneau

Yale alumnus Markus Reneau ’19 is among 10 individuals who have been named inaugural Marshall-Motley Scholars by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. (LDF). The scholarship covers the cost of law school to train the next generation of civil rights lawyers across the U.S. South.

The LDF announced the Marshall-Motley Scholars on May 17, the 67th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The Marshall-Motley Scholars Program (MMSP) is named in honor of Supreme Court justice, civil rights attorney, and LDF founder Thurgood Marshall, and civil rights litigator Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.

Marshall-Motley Scholars pledge to devote the first eight years of their career to practicing civil rights law in the service of Black communities in the South.

The MMSP launched at just the right moment in our history, as the rights of Black people in the U.S. and the power our communities have amassed have come under renewed attack,” said LDF president and director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “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.

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. We are proud of these 10 scholars and look forward to supporting them in carrying on the legacies of Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley and the many unsung heroes of civil rights advocacy.”

Reneau, who was born in New Orleans, is a Hurricane Katrina survivor. His interest in civil rights litigation began on the day that Trayvon Martin was murdered on February 26, 2012, which was Reneau’s 15th birthday.

At Yale, Reneau joined the Urban Improvement Corps to provide tutoring to local children aspiring to attend college. He also worked with the tutoring program Leadership, Education, and Athletics and Partnership (LEAP), which was founded on the belief that children learn in many ways other than classroom instruction. After he graduated, Reneau was a Yale Fellow at the Oakham School in England, where he was the only Black teacher and one of the only Black people in the town of Oakham.

Reneau, who will attend Howard University School of Law, is currently an investigator for the Orleans Public Defenders. In his role as a 2020 presidential election commissioner, he explained many details to Black voters that would have otherwise prevented them from voting, including how to search the New Orleans voter database, helping them find their precinct, and assisting those who needed to cast provisional ballots.

Over the next five years, LDF’s MMSP will invest in the education and training of a total of 50 aspiring civil rights attorneys to advocate on behalf of Black communities in the South. Scholars will be afforded a full law school scholarship for tuition, room and board, and incidentals to alleviate the debt burden that can prevent future lawyers from pursuing a career as a civil rights attorney. In addition, they will receive summer internships with national and regional civil rights organizations with offices in the South focused ono racial justice, a two-year postgraduate fellowship at civil rights law organizations in the South, and access to special trainings sponsored by LDF and the National Academy of Sciences.

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