Current Weather
The Spy FM

Derrick Bell, Influential Legal Scholar, Dies At 80

Filed by KOSU News in Education.
October 11, 2011

Derrick Bell, the first tenured black professor at Harvard Law School, died of carcinoid cancer in New York City on Wednesday. He was 80.

The influential legal scholar championed the “critical race theory,” an idea that begins with the premise that racism is ingrained in American life and laws — even in laws aimed at righting the wrongs of racism.

Bell was also known for divisive career choices.

“I think that you have to risk divisiveness in order to really make points,” he told member station WAMU in 1996. “The people who are not divisive are both boring and they’re often enough not saying anything!”

Bell’s career moves certainly said something. He resigned as dean of the University of Oregon School of Law when an Asian-American woman was denied tenure.

Then in 1990, he went on unpaid leave from Harvard, vowing not to return until a black woman was hired into a tenured position — something Harvard, at that point, had never done.

He ultimately became a visiting professor at NYU, where he worked until he died.

Bell wrote not only about law and theory, but also about how to live an ethical life.

“We can’t wait for leaders,” he told NPR in 2002. “God is within us to a certain extent, you know, and we have to justify the miracle of our existence not by driving the E Class Mercedes — nothing wrong with that, but that should not be our goal. Our goal should be to justify our existence by loving God, by loving others.”

Bell also loved to use stories — parables and even music — to explore the experience of racism.

In a book called Gospel Choirs, he wrote that gospel “echoes the tempos of the soul searching for God’s peace in the midst of a hostile world.”

He spoke about one hymn in particular called “Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.” It popped into his head while he was lecturing on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

“As I was looking down at the upturned faces of all those students, waiting to hear what I had to say on that day that means so much to us all, that song slipped into my mind,” he said. “And I opened my mouth and sang.” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center