Bell, Derrick Albert, Jr., 1930-2011

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Derrick Albert Bell, Jr. was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is a distinguished scholar and prolific writer on current issues, most notably civil rights in the United States. His writings and lectures have examined racism's workings in American society, and the legal remedies for racism as it is expressed in law and custom. He is or has been a member of the D.C., Pennsylvania, New York State, City of New York, and California bar associations.

After serving in the USA Air Force in Korea, he earned his BA in Political Science from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and his LLB from the University of Pittsburgh in 1957 - three years after the Supreme Court invalidated the principle of racially segregated schools in United States in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas . Bell became associated with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1960 (as first assistant counsel) and worked under the close tutelage and influence of Thurgood Marshall, later USA Justice Marshall, who hired him from his position as Executive Director of the Pittsburgh NAACP (DAB to Ellen S. Silberman, July 7, 1978, Box 10:7). After serving for two years as a staff attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, he resigned because the department asked him to withdraw his membership from the NAACP. Bell became assistant counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and between 1960 and 1966 he administered 300 desegregation cases regarding schools and restaurant chains in the South. Another influence on Bell in this period was U.S. Attorney Constance Baker Motley, later U.S. Judge Motley, with whom he worked in New York City and Mississippi through 1966.

Bell left the NAACP - LDEF in 1966 to become Deputy Director of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). He then left government service in 1968 for academia, first teaching at UCLA's Western Center on Law and Poverty. When Derrick Bell joined the faculty of Harvard University Law School in 1969, he became the first African-American professor at that institution. Bell became the first tenured black professor at the Harvard Law School in 1971. He served on the Harvard faculty as professor from 1969-1980 and 1986-1992.

In 1981 Bell left Harvard Law School for the University of Oregon Law School where he was Dean until 1985. He was a visiting professor at other institutions in the period of 1985-1986. He resigned his post at Oregon in protest over the University's refusal to offer a faculty position to a "woman of color." He returned to Harvard Law School in 1987 and subsequently took unpaid leave from that institution during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 academic years to protest the lack of diversity of the Harvard Law School faculty but retained his rank and appointment through the end of that period. He took a visiting professorship at New York University Law School from 1990-1992 and is now a tenured member of the faculty at NYU.

Bell's written work, both in fiction and non-fiction has been widely praised for its imagination and spirituality and he has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times and The Christian Science Monitor, and university legal journals such as: Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and Michigan. Several of his books are considered "best-sellers," including: And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, Faces at the Bottom of the Well and Race, Racism and American Law .

Bell has long expressed opinions regarding the permanence of racism and legal remedies aimed at benefiting minorities inevitably benefiting majority groups. These ideological convictions have placed him at odds with some African-American organizations with different ideas regarding the eradication of inequality in education, housing, and other areas. His opinions have also diverged greatly from both white and black colleagues in law, political activism, government, and academia.


Derrick A. Bell, Jr., "The Burden of Brown on Blacks: History-Based Observations on a Landmark Decision," North Carolina Central Law Journal 7:1 (Fall, 1975), 25-38; Derrick A. Bell, Jr., "Waiting on the Promise of Brown," "The Courts, Social Science, and School Desegregation: Part II," Law and Contemporary Problems, Duke Univ. School of Law, Spring, 1975. DAB to Prof. Herbert Wechsler (Director, the American Law Institute), June 17, 1980 (Box 12:9) for an exposition of the legal principles involved in Brown v. Board of Education; DAB to Arthur Chong, June 21, 1978 (Box 10:6) on Asian-American minority rights. Crenshaw, Kimberlè, Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimization in AntiDiscrimination Law, Harv. L. Rev. 1331, 1380-1381 (1988). Friedman, Leon, The Civil Rights Reader (New York: Walker and Co., 1967 Goldman, Roger L., Thurgood Marshall: Justice for All (with David Gallen), (New York: 1992, Carroll & Graf.) Greenberg, Jack, Crusaders in the Courts: How A Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1994). Hall, Kermit L. The Magic Mirror: Law in American History (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989). Horwitz, Morton, The Transformation of American Law, 1870-1960 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992). Morrison, Toni, "The pain of being black," Time, May 22, 1989, 120.

From the guide to the Derrick A. Bell, Jr. Papers, 1950-2006, (New York University Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Papers, ca. 1967 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Freund, Paul A. Paul A. Freund papers. 1918-1993. Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf Derrick A. Bell, Jr. Papers, 1950-2006 New York University. Archives
creatorOf National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on the Status of Black Americans. National Research Council Committee on the Status of Black Americans working papers, 1986-1988. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Jordan, June, 1936-2002. Papers, 1936-2002 (inclusive), 1954-2002 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Guide to the Daily Worker and Daily World Photographs Collection, 1920-2001 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Papers, ca. 1967 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf The HistoryMakers Video Oral History with Derrick A. Bell, Jr. The HistoryMakers
Relation Name
associatedWith Bell, Jewel Hairston person
associatedWith Berry, Mary Frances person
associatedWith Carter, Robert L., 1917- person
associatedWith Clark, LeRoy D., 1934- person
associatedWith Communist Party of the United States of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Harvard University. corporateBody
associatedWith Higginbotham, A. Leon, (Aloyisus Leon), 1928- person
associatedWith Jordan, June, 1936-2002. person
associatedWith Lamson, Peggy. person
associatedWith Marshall, Thurgood, 1908-1993 person
associatedWith Motley, Constance Baker, 1921- person
associatedWith National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on the Status of Black Americans. corporateBody
associatedWith New York University. corporateBody
associatedWith New York University. School of Law. corporateBody
associatedWith Norton, Eleanor Holmes person
associatedWith Paul A. Freund person
associatedWith Peggy Lamson person
associatedWith Pittsburgh, University of. corporateBody
associatedWith Piven, Frances Fox person
associatedWith Ravitch, Diane person
associatedWith Walker, Alice, 1944- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Pittsburgh (Pa.)
Pittsburgh PA US
New York City NY US
New York (N.Y.)
Boston MA US
New York (N.Y.)
Minorities--Education (Higher)--United States
Law--Study and teaching--United States
Race discrimination--United States
Civil rights--United States
Law schools--United States
African Americans--Politics and government
African Americans--Civil rights
Law teachers--New York (N.Y.)
Law teachers--Cambridge (Mass.)
Law--United States
Racism--United States
African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc
Dissenters--Cambridge (Mass.)
Constitutional law--United States
Civil Rights Lawyer
Law Professor


Birth 1930-11-06

Death 2011-10-05

Birth 19301116

Death 20111005






Ark ID: w6xh27hr

SNAC ID: 43716637