The Derrick Bell Lecture Series on Race in American Society
New York University School of Law

Race is a profoundly important issue in American law but is rarely discussed in law school classrooms and throughout the profession. Derrick Bell’s life’s work was dedicated to provoking the race conversation and to providing an inclusive forum for holding it. One way he did so was through the Derrick Bell Lecture Series on Race in American Society at NYU School of Law.

The lecture series began in 1995 when Bell’s wife, Janet Dewart Bell, inaugurated it to celebrate Bell’s 65th birthday and to bring his work and that of other race scholars to a wider audience. Initially funded by the Friends of Derrick Bell and the Geneva Crenshaw Society and supported since then by NYU Law and the Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association (BLAPA), the series has furnished an acclaimed occasion to examine race in American society and to share and celebrate the work of pre-eminent race scholars and activists working for racial justice and civil rights. The inaugural lecture was presented by Charles Ogletree; subsequent speakers have included Charles Lawrence, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, Mari Matsuda, Paul Butler, and Professor Bell himself. The series has explored a diverse range of contemporary race issues, from rap music’s challenge to discrimination in the criminal justice system, to “post-racial” politics in the Obama era, to a historical race perspective on the housing mortgage crisis.

The lecture has always been more than just a lecture. It is a highly anticipated, lively event and always a birthday party. One of the trademarks of this event is Janet’s leading the audience in a rousing rendition of Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday.” Music is always included – most often gospel but sometimes hip-hop. It is a uniquely meaningful and popular event at NYU Law, which takes great pride in being Bell’s longest-lasting academic home. It draws a wide and diverse audience.

Professor Bell and his wife, Janet, have warmly welcomed into the “Bell family” all who attend the lecture. These now include a generation of NYU law students who have learned from and been changed by Bell and who return annually. They also include many others from NYU and across the nation – scholars, teachers and activists who value the occasion not only for the lecture but for the opportunity it provides to connect with one another and to rejuvenate their commitments to social change and the struggle for racial equality.

Derrick Bell’s mission to foster a race conversation in legal education and the legal profession, and to urge students, lawyers and scholars to progressive action, will be celebrated and furthered through this lecture series after his passing. His warm heart, courage, and brilliance will continue to inspire all those who come.


Past Derrick Bell Lecturers

1995 Charles Ogletree
Professor, Harvard Law School

Spring 1998 Charles Lawrence
Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

Fall 1998 Patricia J. Williams
Professor, Columbia Law School

1999 Richard Delgado
University of Pittsburgh School of Law

2000 Panel Discussion
Lani Guinier
Professor, Harvard Law School
John O. Calmore
Professor, University of North Carolina School of Law
Cheryl Harris
Professor, UCLA Law School
Mari Matsuda
Professor, Georgetown University Law Center
Frank Michelman
Professor, Harvard Law School

2001 Anita Allen
Professor, University of Pennsylvania Law School

2002 Mari Matsuda
Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

2003 Cheryl Harris
Professor, UCLA Law School

2004 Kendall Thomas
Columbia Law School

2005 Derrick Bell
Visiting Professor, NYU School of Law

2006 John O. Calmore
Professor, University of North Carolina School of Law

2007 Robert A. Williams
Professor, Roger E. Williams School of Law, University of Arizona

2008 Paul Butler
Professor, George Washington University Law School

2009 Emma Coleman Jordan
Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

2010 Devon W. Carbado
Professor, UCLA Law School

2011 Ian F. Haney López
University of California Berkeley School of Law