Three brilliant men who shaped the world died yesterday.
Steve Jobs is the name everyone knows. It’s hard to overstate the impact on our lives of this man most of us have never met. I’ve barely spent a waking moment away from an Apple product since I learned of his death yesterday. Listening to my Ipod, working on my computer – even when I was in the kitchen my housemate was at the table on her Mac laptop. Jobs’ work enabled new forms of communication like, oh, this blog.
Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth may be less well known to white America. He was a life long civil rights activist, leading many actions that played a vital role in ending Jim Crow. And he didn’t stop there, continuing his work into the 2000s. Good has a great overview of Shuttlesworth’s activist career.
I was most personally impacted by the passing of Derrick Bell. Bell was a legal scholar who played a major role in the formation of critical race theory, a field of legal thought that has had an extraordinary impact on understands of race and racism. Bell was a storyteller – his work is a far cry from a lot of dry legal scholarship. He even wrote fantastical allegories about race – his story “The Space Traders” is well known outside the world of legal scholarship.
Bell’s challenging writing on Brown v. Board of Education (he famously suggested the ruling was actually in the interest of white folks) opened my mind to new, more critical ways of investigating race and the law. Simply put, I would not think the way I do today without Bell’s work, and I know the same is true of many activists and writers committed to racial justice.
Bell was a trailblazer, the first tenured Black professor at Harvard Law School. Yet he famously resigned from positions at the Justice Department, Harvard, and Oregon Law School in protest of institutional actions. Bell was always willing to give up positions of power in service of his ideals.
I never knew any of these men, and I know most readers didn’t either. But it’s undeniable they’ve had a lasting impact on many of us. Their work lives on, and we are changed by it.