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«Covenant Keeper»

Derrick Bell’s Enduring Education Legacy


Edited By Gloria Ladson-Billings and William Tate

Although he spent his career as a lawyer and law school professor, Derrick Bell had a profound impact on the field of education in the area of educational equity. Among many accomplishments, Bell was the first African American to earn tenure at the Harvard Law School; he also established a new course in civil rights law and produced what has become a famous casebook: Race, Racism, and American Law. The man who could rightly be called, «The Father of Critical Race Theory,» Bell was an innovator who did things with the law that others had not thought possible. This volume highlights Bell’s influence on a number of prominent education and legal scholars by identifying some of his specific work and how they have used it to inform their own thinking and practice. What is contained here is an assemblage of contributors with deep commitments to the path-breaking work of Derrick Bell – a scholar, a teacher, an activist, a mentor, and a covenant keeper.


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gloria ladson-billings xxiv | gloria ladson-billings After law school Derrick Bell took a position in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. In 1959 his superiors in the Justice Department asked him to resign his membership of the NAACP because they believed it compromised his objectivity and made the Department look biased. Bell refused to relinquish his NAACP membership and chose to resign from the Justice Department. Soon after, he took a position as an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. At the Legal Defense Fund Bell worked with prominent civil rights attorneys such as Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and Robert L. Carter. His initial assignment was to Mississippi, where he oversaw some 300 school desegre- gation cases—one of which was the James Meredith case leading to the integra- tion of the University of Mississippi. In the 1960s Bell was appointed to the law faculty of the University of Southern California, and by 1969 the fervent protests of students at Harvard Law School over the lack of faculty diversity made him the prime candidate to join the Harvard faculty. He earned tenure at Harvard in 1971. Bell established a new course in civil rights law and produced what has become a famous casebook titled, Race, Racism, and American Law (Bell, 1973/2008), which is currently in its 6th edition. In it he perfected his use of counter-storytell- ing to illustrate legal principles concerning race and racism. Through the use of “chronicles,” Bell and his...

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