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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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Section Two: Derrick Bell and Principles of Critical Race Theory


s e c t i o n t w o Derrick Bell and Principles of Critical Race Theory … optimism for the future must be tempered by past experience and contemporary facts. —derrick bell (1976) d e r r i c k b e l l a n d t h e i n t e r e s t - c o n v e r g e n c e p r i n c i p l e Partially developed as a scholarly rebuttal to fellow legal scholar Herbert Wechsler’s (1959) assertion that the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 was based neither on “neutral principles” nor on a testable judi- cial doctrine, such as associational rights, Derrick Bell (1980), through his interest- convergence theory, contended that Wechsler’s premise possessed a modicum of truth. According to Bell, “Wechsler’s search for a guiding principle in the context of associational rights retains merit … because it suggests a deeper truth about the subordination of law to interest-group politics with racial configuration” (p. 523). A former attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund during its school desegregation campaign, which was also part of the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, Bell acknowledged that after a quarter century of attempting to racially integrate public schools, the pace of reform had not only stalled but also reversed. Indeed, while “serious racial integration did not occur until the 1970s and was...

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