Derrick Bell

Derrick Bell is a compelling voice on issues of race and class in this society. Throughout his 40-year career as a lawyer, activist, teacher, and writer, he has provoked his critics and challenged his readers with his uncompromising candor and original progressive views.

Bell became the first tenured black professor at the Harvard Law School in 1971. He relinquished it in 1992, when he refused to return from a two-year, unpaid leave of absence he took to protest the lack of women of color on the faculty.

Professor Bell is not a newcomer to personal protests of this nature. In 1980 he left Harvard for five years to accept the deanship at the Oregon Law School. Bell left the post in Oregon when the faculty directed that he not extend an offer to an Asian American woman faculty candidate who, after an extended search, had been listed third on the list. When the top two candidates (both white males) declined the position, the faculty decided to reopen the search rather than extend an offer to the Asian American woman.

Prior to the positions at Harvard and the University of Oregon, Derrick Bell served as executive director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty at the University of Southern California Law School, counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and deputy director of the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Derrick Bell is known for the series of allegorical stories featuring his fictional heroine, Geneva Crenshaw, including: And We Are Not Saved; Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism; and Gospel Choirs: Psalms of Survival in an Alien Land Called Home. The next book in the Geneva Crenshaw series, Afrolantica Legacies, was published in 1998 by Third World Press. Additionally, Professor Bell’s story “Space Traders” from his book Faces at the Bottom of the Well was produced as an HBO movie featuring Robert Guillaume in 1994.

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Jessye Norman