Bell, Derrick A(lbert), Jr. 1930-

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BELL, Derrick A(lbert), Jr. 1930-

(Derrick Bell)

PERSONAL: Born November 6, 1930, in Pittsburgh, PA; son of Derrick Albert and Ada Elizabeth (Childress) Bell; married Jewel Allison Hairston, June 26, 1960 (died, August, 1990); married Janet Dewart, June 28, 1992; children: (first marriage) Derrick Albert, III, Douglass Dubois, Carter Robeson. Ethnicity: "African American." Education: Duquesne University, A.B., 1952; University of Pittsburgh, LL.B., 1957.

ADDRESSES: Home—444 Central Park W, Apt. 14B, New York, NY 10025-4358. Office—New York University School of Law, Vanderbilt Hall, Room 308, 40 Washington Square St., New York, NY 10012-1099. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Law education, author, and lecturer. U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, member of staff of conscientious objector section and civil rights division, 1957-59; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), New York, NY, staff attorney for Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., 1960-66; U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington, DC, deputy director of Office of Civil Rights, 1966-68; U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, Western Center of Law and Poverty at University of Southern California, Los Angeles, director, 1968-69; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, lecturer, 1969-71, professor of law, 1971-80, 1986-90; University of Oregon, Eugene, professor of law and dean of law school, 1981-85. Visiting professor, New York University, New York, NY, 1991-92. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1952-54; became first lieutenant.

MEMBER: National Conference of Black Lawyers, Society of American Law Schools.

AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation grants, 1972, 1975, 1991, and 1993; National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 1980-81; honorary law degrees, Toogaloo College, 1983, Northeastern University, 1985, Mercy College, 1988, Allegheny College, 1989, and Pace Law School, 1996; Teacher of the Year Award, Society of American Law Schools, 1985; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1997, for Gospel Choirs: Psalms of Survival in an Alien Land Called Home.



(As Derrick A. Bell, Jr.) Race, Racism, and American Law, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1973, 4th edition, Aspen Law & Business (Gaithersburg, MD), 2000.

(Contributor) Robert J. Haws, editor, The Age of Segregation: Race Relations in the South, 1890-1945 (essays), University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1978.

(Editor, as Derrick A. Bell, Jr.) Shades of Brown: New Perspectives on School Desegregation, Teachers College Press, 1980.

(Editor) Civil Rights: Leading Cases, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.

And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1987.

Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, Basic Books (Boston, MA), 1992.

Confronting Authority: Reflections of an Ardent Protester, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1994.

Gospel Choirs: Psalms of Survival in an Alien Land Called Home, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Afrolantica Legacies, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1998.

Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor, with Bernestine Singley) When Race Becomes Real: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories, Lawrence Hill Books (Chicago, IL), 2002.

Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to law journals.

SIDELIGHTS: Derrick A. Bell, Jr. is a professor of law at New York University School of Law. According to Raoul Dennis in Black Issues in Higher Education, he is known variously as "The Race Man, The Steward, The Scold, The Pessimist, and The Realist, among others." He is considered a pioneer of critical race theory and an important figure in the movement against racial discrimination.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1930, Bell is the son of Derrick Bell, Sr., and Ada Elizabeth Childress Bell. His father operated a small rubbish company.

Both Bell's parents taught him the value of activism when he was a boy, and they encouraged him to become educated. He was the first person in his family to go to college. He earned an A.B. degree from Duquesne University, and after graduating in 1952, joined the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant. While he was stationed in Louisiana, he decided he would integrate a local all-white church. The church allowed him to attend, but told him to sit alone in a pew in the balcony. Bell told the pastor that he wanted to sing in the choir, which forced the church to allow him to mingle with the white members.

After leaving military service in 1954, Bell earned a law degree at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating fourth in his otherwise all-white class. Bell began teaching at Harvard University Law School in 1969 after working for several years as a civil rights lawyer. Although he had been led to believe that he would be the first of several minority faculty members that the university would hire, two years later he was still the only non-white faculty member there; this situation continued for many years, despite his protests.

From 1981 to 1985, Bell was dean of the law school at the University of Oregon, but found the same problem there. He left the deanship when the school refused to give tenure to an Asian woman whom he thought should receive it. He then returned to Harvard, but left in 1990 because of the school's refusal to hire an African-American woman.

Though he had established himself as a talented editor and essayist more than ten years earlier, Bell redefined his place in the literary world with his 1987 book, And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice. It addresses racial issues through an intertwining of fictional parables, which the author calls "chronicles," and academic argumentation. This combination allows Bell to go "beyond the well-worn arguments, answers and accommodations about race that Americans are accustomed to reading," noted Juan Williams in the Washington Post Book World.

Between the often-humorous parables are dialogues between two fictional narrators: a fiery 1960s civil rights lawyer named Geneva Crenshaw and a nameless male speaker who, according to New York Times Book Review critic Vincent Harding, "reminds us a lot of Mr. Bell." With these two narrators acting as adversaries, moderators, and chorus, And We Are Not Saved allows readers to examine racial issues from a unique perspective. "Novels . . . are more illuminating on racial themes [than essays] because they can convey the reality of racial discrimination," wrote Williams, "the cultural biases, legal inequities, sexual rules and the struggle of children to understand so massive a sin, as well as the occasional triumph against all odds." At one point, Geneva Crenshaw is transported back in time to the Constitutional Convention, where she debates with the founding fathers as to the ramifications of drafting legal slavery into the Constitution. In the end, says Harding, Bell asks readers both black and white to "rethink our past in order to re-envision and re-create our common future." Williams observed: "The road to this conclusion is a long one. . . . Bell could have written a much shorter essay and made his point. But the human dimension added by his stories about the pain and psychic costs of flawed modern race relations make the trip worthwhile."

When And We Are Not Saved was published, it elicited in readers a kind of determined optimism; Harding placed it "near the center of our continuing discussions of the past, present and future of this nation," while Williams went so far as to say: "It has the potential to shift the national mindset as America continues to climb the mountain of racial problems." Bell himself grudgingly admitted to New York Times Book Review interviewer Rosemary L. Bray: "At some point America may actually be a land with opportunity and justice for all." During the following years, however, the face of American racial issues became even more grim, and that optimism turned slowly into indignation. Disgusted with the lack of progress, Bell once again addressed black America with his 1992 novel, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism.

Where And We Are Not Saved was considered by critics to be melancholy, Faces at the Bottom of the Well was seen as scathing and provocative; it was described by Alex Raksin of the Los Angeles Times Book Review as "virtually a declaration of war. Declaring that 'black people will never gain full equality in this country,' it is . . . a manifesto of secession." As with his first novel, Bell combines essay with parable to illuminate the plight of the African American: that equality is, ultimately, unattainable. Notable among the stories in Faces is a chronicle entitled "Space Traders," in which the entire population of black Americans is sold to extraterrestrials, for an unspecified purpose, in exchange for gold and other resources. "Bell spins this grim and stingingly effective tale around the thesis that 'sanctuary' is a more apt description of black citizenship in America than 'equality,'" wrote Lynne Duke in the Washington Post Book World. As with the first book, the parables are interspersed with dialogue, and Geneva Crenshaw even makes a brief return. Raksin called Bell's chronicles "powerful in their eloquence," and while Duke wrote that they can be "overly contrived and laborious to get through, this does not detract from Bell's profoundly engaging theme: Equality, for African-Americans, is a seductive, tranquilizing notion, but nothing more."

In Confronting Authority, Bell describes his efforts to convince Harvard University and the University of Oregon to hire minority faculty. Dennis quoted Columbia professor Manning Marable, who said of Bell, "His efforts are flash-points in a larger, longer struggle for racial equality. They are symbolic in meaning, but you have to remember that symbols are very powerful."

In Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Ambition, Bell presents his views on how one can maintain integrity while pursuing one's dreams. Bell believes that maintaining integrity is more important than financial security or public acclaim, but he notes that making the correct decision is not always easy.

Bell once commented: "In my writing, there is little of craft and certainly nothing of art, but it serves as a medium of expression which, while only infrequently effectual, remains a soul-satisfying means of speaking out against racism, poverty, and this society's self-deluding conviction that happiness can be purchased, integrity feigned, and the Lord's judgment forever postponed."



African American Review, summer, 1996, Raymond M. Brown, review of Confronting Authority: Reflections of an Ardent Protester, p. 290.

American History Review, December, 1988, p. 1386.

Black Issues in Higher Education, November 27, 1997, p. 48; August 6, 1998, p. 44; December 24, 1998, Michele Collison and Cheryl Fields, review of Afrolantica Legacies p. 29.

Booklist, September 15, 1994, Roland Wulbert, review of Confronting Authority, p. 87; June 1, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of Gospel Choirs: Psalms of Survival for an Alien Land Called Home, p. 1646; January 1, 1998, Bonnie Smothers, review of Afrolantica Legacies, p. 750; February 15, 1998, Derrick Bell author interview, p. 952; July-August, 1998, p. 71.

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, October 4, 1994, p. 2

Choice, January, 1995, L. Bowen, review of Confronting Authority, p. 872.

Christian Century, August 11, 1993, Peter T. Nash, review of Faces at the Bottom of the Well, p. 789.

Emerge, July-August, 1996, Robert Joiner, review of Gospel Choirs, p. 79; July-August, 1998, Katheryn Russell, review of Afrolantica Legacies, p. 71.

Freedomways, 1981, p. 123.

Georgia Review, fall, 1995, Sanford Pinsker, review of Faces at the Bottom of the Well and Confronting Authority, p. 732.

Harvard Blackletter Law Journal, spring, 1995, Adrien Katherine Wing, review of Confronting Authority, pp. 161-175.

John Marshall Law Review, summer, 1997, Kevin L. Hopkins, review of Gospel Choirs, pp. 1039-1061.

Journal of American History, September, 1988, p. 675.

Journal of Black Studies, January, 1997, Darnell Anderson, review of Confronting Authority, p. 421.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth, p. 1085.

Law and Social Inquiry, winter, 1998, James Hackney, Jr., review of Gospel Choirs, Faces at the Bottom of the Well, and And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, pp. 141-164.

Library Journal, September 15, 1994, Katherine Dahl, review of Confronting Authority, p. 84; May 1, 1996, review of Gospel Choirs, p. 116; January, 1998, Ann Burns, review of Afrolantica Legacies, p.122.

Los Angeles Daily Journal, October 8, 1992, p. 7.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 23, 1992, p. 6.

Michigan Law Review, May, 1993, p. 1175.

Nation, March 19, 1988, p. 382.

New Republic, November 16, 1987, p. 36.

New York Law Journal, June 14, 1996, p. 2.

New York Law School Law Review, winter, 1996, Helen Leskovac, review of Confronting Authority, pp. 537-564.

New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1987 p. 7; September 20, 1002, p. 7; July 21, 1996, p. 22; April 5, 1998, p. 30; October 2, 1994, p. 15.

NWSA Journal, fall, 1998, Diane Raymond, p. 216.

Publishers Weekly, August 8, 1994, review of Confronting Authority, p. 410; May 6, 1996, review of Gospel Choirs, p. 65; December 22, 1997, review of Afrolantica Legacies, p. 41; July 22, 2002, review of Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth, p. 164.

Wall Street Journal, December 4, 1992, p. A7; September 26, p. A12.

Washington Post Book World, November 1, 1987, p. 10; August 23, 1992, p. 1.

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Bell, Derrick A(lbert), Jr. 1930-

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