LEGACY—Derrick Bell's wife Janet Dewart Bell in the area of the Barco Law library dedicated to his memory. (Photo by Gail Manker)
In the 1950s, Derrick Bell attended the University of Pittsburgh in pursuit of his law degree. He would later go on to become the first tenured African-American Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and now, after a life of accomplishment, the Hill District native, who passed away in 2011 has been memorialized by his alma mater.
On March 20 the University of Pittsburgh’s Black Law Students Association announced the renaming of their annual community law clinic in Bell’s memory at a ceremony in the Barco Law Building. The newly named Derrick Bell Community Legal Clinic provides legal assistance to local low-income residents.
“I believe it honors Mr. Bell’s legacy as a member of the law community and the University of Pittsburgh,” said William Carter, dean of the school of law. “And it will remind us to redouble our efforts to social justice and access to justice.”
In 1957 when Bell graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he was the only African-American in his class and one of only three African-Americans in the school. He went on to work in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department and as assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where he fought alongside Thurgood Marshall against school segregation.
“Derrick Bell means a lot to the law school and the University of Pittsburgh for what he did in the civil rights movement,” said Christopher Carter, vice president of the Black Law Students Association.
At the ceremony, the University of Pittsburgh also unveiled a section of the Barco Law Building library dedicated to Derrick Bell’s memory, the Derrick A. Bell Constitutional Law Commons.
“I think the struggle for justice continues and there are many challenges,” said Bell’s wife Janet Dewart Bell. “His legacy is one of continuing the work that needs to be done.”
Bell’s wife was among many family members and friends who attended the ceremony to honor Bell. Each had a story about how he shaped their views on civil rights and race relations.
“In spite of the void he left, this is a reminder that he’s with us yet,” said Derrick Bell’s sister Janet A. Bell. “This is such a blessing. At a very early age, he taught me that if someone treated me different, it wasn’t my fault.”
This Community Legal Clinic is a project of The University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law Black Law Students Association in partnership with the Duquesne University School of Law Black Law Students Association, the Homer S. Brown Law Division of the Allegheny County Bar Association, and the Pro Bono Center of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation.