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A Protesting Pioneer of Critical Race Theory, Derrick Bell, Dies at the Age of 80

Posted Oct 6, 2011 6:52 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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New York University law professor Derrick Bell, a pioneer of critical race theory, has died of carcinoid cancer at the age of 80.

Bell was the first tenured black law professor at Harvard Law School and the first black law dean of a law school that is not historically black, the New York Times reports.

He resigned from his deanship at the University of Oregon School of Law in 1985 over its failure to grant tenure to an Asian woman. He left Harvard Law School on his second stint there in a similar fashion, the Times recounts. Bell took a two-year paid leave of absence from Harvard Law in 1990 to protest its lack of a black woman on its tenured faculty. The school refused to extend the leave.

According to the Times, Bell “was perhaps better known for resigning from prestigious jobs than for accepting them.” He also resigned from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department when he was told to give up his membership in the NAACP.

"Much of Mr. Bell’s scholarship rejected dry legal analysis in favor of allegorical stories," the Times says. "In books and law review articles, he presented parables about race relations, then debated their meaning with a fictional alter ego, a black professor named Geneva Crenshaw, who forced him to confront the truth about the persistence of racism in America."

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