Remembering Professor Derrick Bell

Derrick Bell has passed away. He was a brave and wonderful man, whom I actually met in person and worked with only once. But that was some meeting.

Our Guardian Angel

Patricia A. Acone, Staff, Colleague, and Friend

All sorts of memories are flowing back, faster than I can write. Patricia Acone, from the Undergraduate Advising Center at CSUDH (California State University, Dominguez Hills), and a long-time supporter of the Stanley Mosk Undergraduate Moot Court, volunteered to pick Professor Bell up at the airport. In that crappy old Volvo, probably as full of kids and food and detritus as it always was, from her own six kids, her grand kids, and all of us. I don’t think she had the new VW Bug then. I’m going strictly from memory, unless it’s recorded on the Dear Habermas site. Somehow, I’m pretty sure these details aren’t on that teaching site.

After a cross-country flight, for which our meager local funding probably didn’t allow first class accommodations, Professor Bell was probably crammed in with several students, and maybe a few of her own kids, who had been threatened with mayhem if they didn’t behave properly in front of this famous man. Now, as I remember him fondly, I’m ashamed to admit that in all the confusion of dealing with filling a 500-seat university auditorium the next evening, I never thought about what that ride was like to a hotel in, well, if not in the wrong part of town, certainly not the Beverly Wilshire. I was mostly just grateful that Pat was willing to do it.

This wasn’t really a colleague to colleague favor. I pestered the heck out of him and his ever polite secretary, over the phone at New York University Law School, because I’d read – and believed whole-heartedly – what he’d said in And We Are Not Saved.  I identified with the cause that led him to take a leave of absence from Harvard Law in protest over tenure for minority women. He told stories of racial injustice. I was telling the same kinds of stories of what I saw happening in our college.

I was teaching in what was then the newest of our California State Universities. We had a large minority population, welcomed only after the infamous Watts Riots made open door admissions seem like a reasonable idea to those who were protesting the inaccessibility of adequate educational preparation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made separate but equal illegal. So, the California State College that was to have been housed in Palos Verdes Estates, named after Palos Verdes Estates, and to have become an elite school to service that prime residential area, left the bank in which its first classes had been held and was moved to a little apartment building on E. Victoria Street, where I arrived to interview for a teaching job.

By the time I taught my first class the college had moved into its new buildings in the Dominguez Hills fields across E. Victoria Street at S. Avalon Blvd. Lots of detail, but necessary to an understanding of how drastically the early intent for CSUDH was changed by the 1970’s in efforts to cope effectively  with social, economic, and educational justice for our minority groups.  When I asked Professor Bell to come to CSUDH it was not to give a speech. It was to act as Chief Justice for our Stanley Mosk Undergraduate Moot Court, in which four of our students would argue with a panel of justices on stage in the CSUDH auditorium that would seat 500. My goal was to provide real access for the local community to see their own local young people engage in a real discussion over the exponential increase in private security guards in their communities, as might have taken place in a real courtroom.

 

*************

The student population has changed over the years. But the history of our school is reflected in these statistics on Wikipedia for CSUDH.

2011 Demographics of student body

All enrolled students
African American –   22.0%
Asian American    –     9.5%
White Americans      12.3%
Hispanic American   44.7%
Native American          0.3%

********

I’m too tired to go on tonight. There are team members of Dear Habermas out there who are following this. So I’m going to post as is. Tomorrow I’ll finish the story. There’s much, much more to tell, and I think he’d like to have it told and published. Because of that I’ve violated my own goal of posting 2000 words a day in preparation for NaNoWriMo. I promised myself I wouldn’t edit. Just get the stories down. We’ll all edit together once we ready the theory of everything for printing. But for this – it’s so special – I had to edit.

Notes for tomorrow:

The very first reference he made that brought me back to who he really was, where I had asked him to fly to from New York City, and that just maybe he was used to a slightly more eloquent reception was in my car, as I drove him, well after ten o’clock in that non-stop fantasy of an evening was when he said, to my husband, on the car phone, “she drives this car like my Daddy drove the garbage truck.”  I was driving. Now, that was brave. I was driving the 1964 Silver and Maroon Rolls, to take him to one of the few places that serves after 10, Campanile, on La Brea, in Hollywood.  I don’t remember why, but in the craziness of this whole event, Arnold had driven on ahead in one of the other cars, so that we could take him to dinner. Now, should I have fed him after that, or sent him home to bed with no dinner? Maybe that’s what they mean by a poll on wordpress. Oh, well, we’ll see.

love and peace, and goodnight until tomorrow, and goodnight, Professor Bell. It’s been good to have you here in my memories.

jeanne the Red Jay

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About Jeannie the Red Jay

Emeritus Professor, lawyer, physicist, mathematician, French teacher, Ph.D. in learning theory and philosophy. Artist, wife, mother, political activist. Teller of ever so many stories gathered along the way. Emeritus Prof. in sociology at California State University, Domingeuz Hills. Web Mistress for Dear Habermas in research study with Susan R. Takata of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside: Study of Social Network Analysis in Developing a Public Sphere in Local Communities, Real and Virtual.
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