The NAACP’s Benjamin Jealous responds to recent attacks on the late Derrick Bell, the first tenured African-American professor at Harvard Law School. Fox News host Sean Hannity played a video showing then-student Barack Obama hugging Bell during a protest over Harvard’s failure to hire minority faculty. Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Hannity’s program called Bell a “radical college racist professor.” “I think, quite frankly, Sean Hannity was afraid to talk to Derrick Bell directly, because this [video] has been out there for years,” Jealous says. “If he had, he would have encountered somebody of tremendous compassion, of tremendous intelligence and of tremendous patriotism.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk about Texas in a minute with Ari Berman, but I wanted to ask you, Ben, before we go, about the recent attacks on the late Harvard professor, Derrick Bell, the first tenured African-American professor at Harvard Law School, who quit, actually, Harvard Law School when a woman professor of color was not given tenure, and went on to teach at NYU for decades. Last week, Fox News host Sean Hannity played a video showing then-Harvard law student Barack Obama introducing Professor Bell during a protest over Harvard’s failure to hire minority faculty. I should note, this video has been available on YouTube since 2008.
BARACK OBAMA: Now, remember that the black law students had organized an orientation for the first-year students, and one of the persons who spoke at that orientation was Professor Bell. And I remember him sauntering up to the front and not giving us a lecture, but engaging us in a conversation. Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell.
SEAN HANNITY: After he said, “Open up your hearts and minds to the words of Derrick Bell,” well, then-student Barack Obama hugged him. Well, Mr. President, that’s exactly what we have now done over the course of the last 48 hours. And some of the words that we have uncovered are pretty disturbing. In fact, I think it’s obvious why your friend, Professor Ogletree, went to great lengths to hide that protest footage during the 2008 campaign. And so, tonight we will reveal a whole series of Derrick Bell’s controversial statements. First, let’s do as we were told and open our hearts and minds to the words of this controversial figure. Now, here he is talking about what it was that kept an old friend of his motivated during a time when racial tension was running high in the 1960s.
DERRICK BELL: “Why do you do it?” She said, “Derrick, I’m an old lady. I lives to harass white folks.” And this is a marvelous thing of [inaudible]. She—I mean, this is the way it was in the neighborhood. She lived near whites who were supportive of her, so she was not—it wasn’t a racial thing, but she knew that those people who were oppressing her were white. She knew that she couldn’t—she didn’t have their power, she didn’t have their money. She certainly didn’t have their guns. But she saw her life as giving them trouble, being on their case all the time. And I’ve accepted that as my motto: “I lives to harass white folk.” So those at Harvard and some of the other places need to be on guard.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell, the video of which was played by Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week. He also spoke to former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who called Bell, quote, “a radical college racist professor.” Professor Bell died late last year of cancer at the age of 80. Last night, his widow, Janet Dewart Bell, responded to the attacks during an interview on MSNBC’s The Ed Show.
JANET DEWART BELL: I’m sad that they could be so dishonest. And it’s just really part of that radical right wing and the right-wing media’s patterns of distortion and misinformation. But, you know, I’m smiling because I want to lift up the memory of Derrick Bell. Derrick Bell left a great legacy, not just to me and our family, but my husband was—if he were here today, he would be standing up for Sandra Fluke. You know, Gloria Steinem once named him an honorary woman, because he was a feminist before feminism was cool. And, you know, that’s the Derrick Bell that I know. He’s a man of courage, of conviction, and he was always standing up for justice. It didn’t matter who it was, and he accepted people as they were.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Janet Dewart Bell talking about her husband, a Harvard law professor, NYU law professor, Derrick Bell, who died just a few months ago. Ben Jealous, I know you have to leave, but your response to these attacks on Professor Bell, and the significance of critical race theory?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah, I—first of all, let me say, you know, Derrick Bell, as Janet described him, was a patriot. He was a lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice, who was forced to resign. He was given a choice: either you quit the NAACP, you resign your membership in the NAACP, or you have to quit the DOJ. And so he decided to quit the DOJ—you know, that sort of right of association he thought he was there to protect. And quite frankly, the radical right benefits from the precedent that he set today, those of them who, you know, work throughout the state and federal government in this country.
Derrick Bell was a man of tremendous courage and compassion. He quit Harvard University, arguably the most prestigious post any professor can hold, not because they didn’t hire a woman of color, because they wouldn’t hire—at that point, they would not grant tenure to any woman of color, to any woman of color. And he is somebody who may there—you know, I wasn’t there for those comments. I suspect—and I couldn’t see them on the TV here, but, you know, I suspect that they were an act of, you know, humorous hyperbole, you know, talking about a woman growing up in the context of Jim Crow segregation who was exercising her right to agitate for justice and for inclusion.
You know, this stuff makes me sad, because the reality is that Derrick Bell—you know, that was up there on YouTube for years, and Derrick Bell was alive for all but the last few months, and they could have confronted him. They could have asked him. I think, quite frankly, Sean Hannity was afraid to talk to Derrick Bell directly, because this has been out there for years. If he had, he would have encountered somebody of tremendous compassion, of tremendous intelligence and of tremendous patriotism. And the sort of desperate act to insert race here just divides our country. It is counter to what our children pray our country will be every day when they stand up and they pledge allegiance to one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Derrick Bell dedicated himself to making that prayer come true. And I wish that Mr. Hannity would do the same, rather than, you know, engage in these cowardly acts trying to drag the name of a recently dead man through the mud, when he could have confronted him himself in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, when this tape was out there. Derrick Bell was with us, and he could have defended himself. I just find it just pitiful.
AMY GOODMAN: Ben Jealous, I want to thank you for being with us, president and CEO of the NAACP. Ben Jealous is now going over to the U.N. Human Rights Council where, he is in Geneva, Switzerland, to testify about the erosion of voting rights in the United States, calling for a delegation, a U.N. delegation, to come to the United States to investigate the voting rights situation here.
This is Democracy Now! Back in 15 seconds. We’ll look at voting rights in Texas and then, hmmm, who is going to be counting the vote, running the race, in Birmingham, Alabama? We’ll go to Birmingham to find out. Stay with us.