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Stars that died 2010

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Derrick Bell, American law professor (Harvard University), originated critical race theory, died from carcinoid cancer he was 80.


Derrick Albert Bell, Jr. [2] was the first tenured African-American Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and is largely credited as one of the originators of critical race theory. He was a Visiting Professor at New York University School of Law[3] from 1991 until his death.[4] He was also a former Dean of the University of Oregon School of Law.[5]

(November 6, 1930 – October 5, 2011)

Education and early career

Born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Bell received an A.B. from Duquesne University in 1952. He was a member of the Duquesne Reserve Officers' Training Corps and later served as an Air Force officer for two years (stationed in Korea for one of those years).[2] In 1957 he received an LL.B. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. After graduation, and after a recommendation from then United States Associate Attorney General William P. Rogers, Bell took a position with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. He was one of the few black lawyers working for the Justice Department at the time. In 1959, the government asked him to resign his membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) because it was thought that his objectivity, and that of the department, might be compromised or called into question. Bell resigned rather than giving up his NAACP membership.[6]
Soon afterwards, Bell took a position as an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), crafting legal strategies at the forefront of the battle to undo racist laws and segregation in schools. At the LDF, he worked alongside other prominent civil rights attorneys such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter and Constance Baker Motley. Bell was assigned to Mississippi. While working at the LDF, Bell supervised more than 300 school desegregation cases and spearheaded the fight of James Meredith to secure admission to the University of Mississippi over the protests of Governor Ross Barnett. [7]
"I learned a lot about evasiveness, and how racists could use a system to forestall equality," Bell was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe ... "I also learned a lot riding those dusty roads and walking into those sullen hostile courts in Jackson, Mississippi. It just seems that unless something's pushed, unless you litigate, nothing happens."[8]
In the mid-1960s Bell was appointed to the law faculty of the University of Southern California as executive director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Academic career

Harvard Law School

In 1969, with the help of protests from black Harvard Law School students for a minority faculty member, Bell was hired to teach there. At Harvard, Bell established a new course in civil rights law, published a celebrated case book, Race, Racism and American Law, and produced a steady stream of law review articles. But Bell, who became the first black tenured professor in Harvard Law School's history in 1971, polarized others with his accusations of racism, which some saw as principles and others as too quick to accuse others of bigotry.[8]

Protests over faculty diversity

In 1980, he started a five year tenure as dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, interrupted by his resignation after an Asian-American woman he had chosen to join the faculty was refused by the university. [2][9]
Returning to Harvard in 1986, after a year-long stint at Stanford University, Bell staged a five-day sit-in in his office to protest the school's failure to grant tenure to two professors on staff, both of whose work promoted critical race theory. [2] The sit-in was widely supported by students, but divided the faculty, as Harvard administrators claimed the professors were denied tenure for substandard scholarship and teaching.[8]
In 1990, Harvard had 60 tenured professors. Three of these were black men, and five of them were women, but there were no black women among them, a dearth Bell decided to protest with an unpaid leave of absence.[10].[8] Students supported the move which critics found "counterproductive", while Harvard administrators cited a lack of qualified candidates, defending that they had taken great strides in the previous decade to bring women and black people onto the faculty.[8] The story of his protest is detailed in his book Confronting Authority.
Bell's protest at Harvard stirred angry criticism by opposing Harvard Law faculty who called him "a media manipulator who unfairly attacked the school", noting that other people had accused him of "depriv[ing] students of an education while he makes money on the lecture circuit".[11]
Bell took his leave of absence and accepted a visiting professorship at NYU Law starting in 1991. After two years, Harvard had still not hired any minority women, and Bell requested an extension of his leave which the school refused, thereby ending his tenure.[2] It took until 1998 for Harvard Law to hire civil rights attorney and U.S. Assistant Attorney General nominee, Lani Guinier, who became the law school's first female African-American tenured professor.[2][12]
In March 2012, five months after his death, Bell became the target of conservative media, including Breitbart.com and Sean Hannity, in an attack against President Barack Obama. The controversy focused on a 1991 video of Obama introducing Bell at a protest by Harvard Law School students over the lack of diversity in the school's faculty. Bell's widow stated that Bell and Obama had "very little contact" after Obama's law school graduation. She said that as far as she remembers, "He never had contact with the president as president".[13]

NYU School of Law

Bell's visiting professorship at New York University began in 1991. After his two year leave of absence, his position at Harvard ended and he remained at NYU where he continued to write and lecture on issues of race and civil rights.

Scholarship

Bell is arguably the most influential source of thought critical of traditional civil rights discourse. Bell’s critique represented a challenge to the dominant liberal and conservative position on civil rights, race and the law. He employed three major arguments in his analyses of racial patterns in American law: constitutional contradiction, the interest convergence principle, and the price of racial remedies. His book Race, Racism and American Law, now in its sixth edition, has been continually in print since 1973 and is considered a classic in the field.
Bell continued writing about critical race theory after accepting a teaching position at Harvard University. Much of his legal scholarship was influenced by his experience both as a black man and as a civil rights attorney. Writing in a narrative style, Bell contributed to the intellectual discussions on race. According to Bell, his purpose in writing was to examine the racial issues within the context of their economic and social and political dimensions from a legal standpoint.
For instance, in The Constitutional Contradiction, Bell argued that the framers of the Constitution chose the rewards of property over justice. With regard to the interest convergence, he maintains that "whites will promote racial advances for blacks only when they also promote white self-interest." Finally, in The Price of Racial Remedies, Bell argues that whites will not support civil rights policies that may threaten white social status. Similar themes can be found in another well-known piece entitled, Who's Afraid of Critical Race Theory?[14]
His 2002 book, Ethical Ambition, encourages a life of ethical behavior, including "a good job well done, giving credit to others, standing up for what you believe in, voluntarily returning lost valuables, choosing what feels right over what might feel good right now".[15]

Science fiction

Bell also wrote science fiction short stories, including "The Space Traders", a story in which white Americans trade black Americans to space aliens in order to pay off the national debt and receive advanced technology. The story was adapted for television in 1994 by director Reginald Hudlin and writer Trey Ellis. It aired on HBO as the leading segment of a three-part anthology entitled Cosmic Slop, which focused on minority-centric Science Fiction.[16]

Death

On October 5, 2011, Bell died from carcinoid cancer at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, at the age of 80. "[2][17][18][19] At the time, the Associated Press reported: "The dean at NYU, Richard Revesz, said, 'For more than 20 years, the law school community has been profoundly shaped by Derrick's unwavering passion for civil rights and community justice, and his leadership as a scholar, teacher, and activist.'"[20]

Selected bibliography

  • Race, Racism and American Law (1973, Little Brown & Co.; 6th ed., 2008)
  • Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth (Bloomsbury, 2002)
  • Afrolantica Legacies (Third World Press, 1998)
  • Constitutional Conflicts (Anderson Press, 1997)
  • Confronting Authority: Reflections of an Ardent Protestor (Beacon Press, 1994)
  • Gospel Choirs (1996)
  • Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (1992)
  • And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice (1987)




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