Derrick Bell Jr.
Derrick Bell Jr.

We had barely absorbed the sad news of the passing of the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth Wednesday — not to mention the death of Apple leader Steve Jobs — when we heard news of another tragic loss: the death Wednesday of legal scholar and writer Derrick Bell. A publicist for New York University School of Law, where Bell was a visiting professor of law, confirmed to The Root that he is deceased.

He died of carcinoid cancer at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, according to the New York Times.


A Pittsburgh native, Bell distinguished himself early in his law career through his work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund during the civil rights era. Recruited by Thurgood Marshall, Bell oversaw 300 school-desegregation cases, according to The HistoryMakers. He also served as deputy director of the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He was known as a pioneer of the study of "critical race theory," which explores racism in laws and legal institutions.

According to his bio at The HistoryMakers:

In 1971, Bell became the first African American to become a tenured professor at Harvard Law School. There, he established a course in civil rights law and wrote Race, Racism and American Law, which today is a standard textbook in law schools around the country. Leaving Harvard, Bell became the first African American dean of the University of Oregon Law School, and in 1985, he resigned in protest after the university directed him not to hire an Asian American candidate for a faculty position. Returning to Harvard Law School, Bell would again resign in protest in 1992 over the school's failure to hire and offer tenure to minority women.

In addition to his work in the classroom, Bell is an acclaimed author, having written numerous books, most notably his series featuring fictional civil rights leader Geneva Crenshaw, including And We Are Not Saved and Faces at the Bottom of the Well. In 2002, he wrote Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth, containing his thoughts on achieving success while maintaining integrity. Most recently, he authored Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform.

Read more at The HistoryMakers.

Read his obituary at the New York Times.

In other news: Steve Jobs Dead at 56.

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