Two celebrated civil rights attorneys speak at the Zepp Lecture

 Vic Mc Teer James Bell banner
April 11, 2017

C. Victor McTeer and James Bell, two celebrated civil rights attorneys and McDaniel College honorary doctor of laws degree recipients, speak at the College’s Zepp Lecture on April 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Decker Center Forum. Free and open to the public, the discussion titled “Dissenters from the Indifference” will be led by McDaniel President Roger N. Casey.

The discussion title is excerpted from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s remarks when he was awarded the Medal of Liberty in Philadelphia on July 4, 1992, six months before his death:

“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

McTeer is a 1969 McDaniel alumnus and member of the College’s board of trustees. A native of Baltimore, he is one of the College’s first African-American graduates. The Commencement speaker at McDaniel in 2015, he was also the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree.

After graduating from Rutgers School of Law in 1972, McTeer worked as an activist lawyer in the Mississippi Delta. At the age of 25, McTeer became the first black Mississippi lawyer since the Reconstruction period to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court, which he won.

Throughout his career, he pursued claims of people in cases involving voting rights, employment discrimination, housing discrimination and Constitutional law. In the mid-1970s, he sued numerous Mississippi Delta cities to end the historic refusal of white-controlled municipalities to provide black citizens with the same amenities as white citizens. In 1981, he was part of a legal team that gained the first-ever money damage award against a faction of the Ku Klux Klan after a federal jury heard his closing argument.

He also became one of the attorneys representing plaintiffs in anti-smoking cases, including the case against the American Tobacco Company that was the basis for John Grisham’s fictional account, “The Runaway Jury.” In the 1990s, McTeer joined the legal team representing the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi to pursue claims against cigarette manufacturers, which resulted in the largest civil settlement in history.

James Bell, an attorney and juvenile justice advocate, has spearheaded a national movement to address racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. He served as the Commencement speaker at McDaniel in 2016 and was the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree.

In 2001, he founded the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), which helps to protect and improve the lives of youth of color and poor youth. BI earned the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, which is presented to select organizations worldwide for their remarkable work within their fields.

He guides the BI’s Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY), a national network of programs working successfully with young people of color. He also works closely with the Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative jurisdictions and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative. In addition, he has extensive experience in the international juvenile justice arena.

Bell, who holds a J.D. from University of California, Hastings College of the Law, is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship, the Livingstone Hall Award from the American Bar Association, Attorney of the Year from the Charles Houston Bar Association and the Advocate of the Year from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. He has also appeared on “Nightline” and “The Tavis Smiley Show,” as well as authored the “Unequal Justice” section of the “Covenant with Black America” and the “Criminal Justice Policy Paper” for the National Black/Latino Summit.

The annual Ira G. Zepp, Jr., Memorial Lecture honors Ira Zepp, a devoted member of the McDaniel faculty for more than 40 years and a human rights activist who died in 2009. He advocated the acceptance of gays, civil rights and women’s rights and marched with civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Ala. The lecture and day-in-residence honoring Zepp rotates among four academic departments, sociology, religious studies (Zepp’s department), environmental studies, and political science and international studies, every two years.

More information about Victor McTeer can be found at www.mcdaniel.edu/information/headlines/news-at-mcdaniel/archive/bio-victor-mcteer-69-honorary-degree-recipient. Visit https://youtu.be/9nP9OPFHrPg to hear his 2015 Commencement speech.

Visit www.mcdaniel.edu/information/headlines/news-at-mcdaniel/archive/bio-james-bell-commencement-speaker-and-honorary-degree-recipient for more information about James Bell. Hear his 2016 Commencement speech at https://youtu.be/2-ZG3RrHXIw.

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C. Victor McTeer (left) and James Bell speak at McDaniel College's Zepp Lecture April 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Decker Center Forum.