“A Living, Working Faith”: Remembering Our Colleague, Derrick A. Bell, Jr.
As a tribute to the late Derrick Bell’s scholarship and teaching, on December 10, 2011, Columbia Law School hosted “A Living, Working Faith: Remembering Our Colleague Derrick A. Bell, Jr.,” which gathered NYC-area law professors to reflect on Bell’s legacy and the greatest lessons, challenges, and critiques of his scholarship. The conference was developed by Penelope Andrews, Professor of Law at the City University of New York School of Law (currently Dean of Albany Law School) and Kendall Thomas, the Nash Professor of Law at Columbia Law School.
The Columbia Journal of Race and Law is pleased to continue the conversation that the law professors began on December 10 with a wider audience through this special on-line feature named after the conference. To help spark the dialogue, professors who presented at the conference developed essays reflecting their comments on three central themes: the Permanence of Racism, Bell’s unique teaching pedagogy and his Interest Convergence Theory. The journal partnered with Guest Editors and former Derrick Bell Teaching Fellows, Taja-Nia Henderson (Rutgers School of Law – Newark) and Joy Radice (University of Tennessee School of Law) to prepare these essays for publication. We hope you will help us continue this important dialogue about Professor Bell’s great legacy by clicking on an essay below and sharing your thoughts with us.
About Professor Derrick Bell
Derrick Bell is widely recognized as one of the founders of critical race theory and a leading scholar on issues of race and law in America. Professor Bell’s noteworthy career included many achievements and exceptional “firsts,” including his tenure at the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, his desegregation litigation work with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, his appointment as the first African-American tenured professor at Harvard Law School, and his service as Dean of the University of Oregon School of Law. Derrick’s protest ethic led him to resign from the DOJ, Harvard, and Oregon, all for reasons related to the persistent subordination of people of color in the law and legal academy. At the time of his passing, Derrick was a Visiting Professor at New York University (NYU) School of Law, where he had taught and served pursuant to a series of nineteen (19) one-year contracts with the school.
Professor Bell’s career embodied a commitment to courage and risk-taking in support of equality. Throughout his career as a teacher, he led the call for reform in legal education; believing that he needed to model the reform he advocated, Derrick began retooling his courses in the 1980s with a focus on building practical lawyering skills, crafting legal arguments and analysis through both legal and non-legal forms of writing and expression, and creating community to further personal transformation and critical engagement. Perhaps the best embodiment of his commitment to a participatory pedagogy was the publication in 1997 of Constitutional Conflicts, a textbook and collaborative teaching guide for American constitutional law.
Professor Bell’s unparalleled scholarly contributions include And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice (1987), Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (1992), and Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform (2004), along with numerous articles published in the nation’s leading law journals. His textbook, Race, Racism, and American Law is now in its sixth edition (2008), and remains the teaching tool of choice for courses on race and law in American law schools.
Professor Bell passed away on October 5, 2011, surrounded by his loving and devoted family. His life as a father, husband, lawyer, law teacher, scholar, activist, mentor, and friend inspired tributes and remembrances from people both within and outside of the legal community.
We have provided an abstract and biography for each of the presenters to provide some context for the remarks. To join the conversation, please follow the instructions here.
The Elusive Quest for Equality and the Permanence of Racism
“The Post Racial Era: Race, Silence, the Denial of Race/Racism and Optimism,” –Leonard Baynes, St. John’s University School of Law
“Notes Toward a Critical Contemplation of the Law,” –Sonia Katyal, Fordham University School of Law
“Derrick Bell’s ‘Afrolantica’ and Gentrification in Harlem,” –Twila Perry, Rutgers University School of Law
Derrick Bell as Teacher
“How Derrick Bell Helped Me Decide to Become an Educator, Not Just a Faculty Member,” –Vanessa Merton, Pace University School of Law
“Derrick Bell’s Community-Based Classroom,” –Joy Radice, University of Tennessee College of Law
” ‘A Living Working Faith': Remembering Our Colleague Derrick A. Bell, Jr. as Teacher,” –Andrea McArdle, CUNY School of Law
“A Legacy of Teaching,” –Robin Lenhardt, Fordham University School of Law
“Derrick Bell’s Children,” –I. Bennett Capers, Brooklyn Law School
“From Interest Convergence to Solidarity,” –Julie Suk, Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University
“A Multiplicity of Interests,” –Rachel Godsil, Seton Hall University School of Law
“Racial Fortuity, Rights Sacrifice, and the Promise of Convergence in Prison and Policing Policy,” –Taja-Nia Henderson, Rutgers School of Law – Newark