Tributes in Memory of Professor Derrick Bell
Richard L. Revesz
Dean and Lawrence King Professor of Law
New York University School of Law
October 6, 2011
Dear Alumni and Friends,
I am writing to share with you the very sad news that Professor Derrick Bell passed away yesterday.
For more than twenty 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. A devoted professor of constitutional law, Derrick instilled in his students a deep sense of professional and ethical responsibility and encouraged them to confront complex issues about race and difference.
Derrick wrote extensively about the progress of racial reform in the United States across a range of genres, from fiction to legal analysis to autobiography. He contributed key writings that helped form the critical race theory movement in the mid-seventies, and his casebook, Race, Racism and American Law is used widely in law schools across the country. He has also explored these issues as they relate to music in a book of essays and parables, and introduced the Bell Annual Gospel Choir Concert, now a long-standing and deeply moving tradition at the Law School.
In addition to his far-reaching impact as a teacher and scholar, Derrick championed the cause of civil rights outside the classroom. He leveraged his positions as the first tenured African American professor at Harvard Law School and first African American dean of the University of Oregon School of Law to challenge law schools around the country to embrace diversity in their hiring practices. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1957, he worked with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, the only African American among thousands of lawyers. He left after two years when the government asked him to resign his membership of the NAACP and then went on to become first assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund under Thurgood Marshall, supervising more than 300 school desegregation cases in Mississippi.
Since 1995, he has enriched our intellectual community by bringing prominent scholars to the Law School for the annual Bell Lecture to discuss everything from racially tinged economics to post-racial challenges in the Obama era. His legacy will continue on November 2, when we welcome this year’s Bell lecturer, Ian Haney-López, John H. Boalt Professor of Law from the University of California Berkeley School of Law to discuss contemporary racial equality law.
On Tuesday, February 28, we will posthumously dedicate the 69th Volume of the NYU Annual Survey of American Law to Derrick. Tributes will be given by Derrick’s friends, colleagues, and peers, including NYU President John Sexton. The dedication ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m., in Vanderbilt Hall, Greenberg Lounge, followed by a reception.
A memorial service will be held in New York City in the coming weeks. We will provide information about the date and time of the service as soon as it is available. Derrick’s wife, Janet, requests that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to:
Derrick Bell Lecture Fund
New York University School of Law
Office of Development and Alumni Relations
110 West 3rd Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Derrick was a beloved member of the NYU community who inspired countless scholars and faculty to stand up for their principles. He will be deeply missed, but his strong moral compass will continue to guide us.
His much devoted wife, Janet, and his three children, Derrick, Douglas and Carter, are in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.