The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

The Honorable Robert Mack Bell

Judge Robert Mack Bell was born on July 6, 1943 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina to Thomas and Rosa Lee Bell. His father was a construction worker while his mother worked as a domestic and care giver. His parents separated when he was a young, and Bell was raised by his mother who moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in search of better jobs. He attended Baltimore public schools and graduated from Dunbar High School in 1961. While finishing his senior year at Dunbar in 1960, he, along with eleven other students, were recruited by Morgan State College students to participate in a sit-in at Hooper’s Restaurant, a segregated business. The students were subsequently arrested and convicted for trespassing. Bell was the lead defendant for an appeal of the verdict in the landmark civil rights case, Bell v. Maryland, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually ended racial segregation in Maryland.

After high school, Bell enrolled at Morgan State College in 1961 but was forced to take a year off from school after being hospitalized with tuberculosis. In 1963, he returned to Morgan where he was active in student government, and a member of the honor society and of the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity. After he graduated second in his class with his A.B. degree in history and political science in 1966, he enrolled at Harvard Law School. The first student from Morgan to attend Harvard’s prestigious law school, Bell received his J.D. degree from there in 1969.

After passing the Maryland State Bar Examination in 1969, Bell was hired by Piper & Marbury, where he became the Baltimore law firm’s first black associate. In 1975, he became a judge on the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City in his first judgeship. In 1980, Bell served as a judge for the Circuit Court for Baltimore, remaining until 1984. He was then appointed to the bench of the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland, serving in that post until 1991 when he was elected Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland. In 1996, Bell was appointed by Maryland Governor Parris Glendening as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. With that appointment he became the only active judge in Maryland to have served at least four years on all four levels of Maryland’s judiciary and the first African American to be named the state’s chief jurist.

Bell is a member of several legal organizations including the National, American and Maryland State Bar Associations. He has received numerous awards and recognition for his work in the legal field and lectures often at schools and at community functions.

Appellate Court Judge Robert Mack Bell was interviewed by TheHistoryMakers on August 17, 2004.

Accession Number

A2004.129

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/17/2004

Last Name

Bell

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

Mack

Schools

P.S. 101A Elementary School

P.S. 139 Elementary School

Dunbar High School

Morgan State University

Harvard Law School

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Depends on Schedule

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Rocky Mount

HM ID

BEL02

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

No preference

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Summer

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: No preference

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Maryland

Birth Date

7/6/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Baltimore

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pork

Short Description

Judge The Honorable Robert Mack Bell (1943 - ) was the lead defendant in the 1964 civil rights case, Bell v. Maryland, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and helped end racial segregation in Maryland. Since 1996, Bell has been Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Employment

Piper & Marbury

District Court of Maryland

Circuit Court for Baltimore City

Maryland Court of Special Appeals

Court of Appeals of Maryland

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
0,0:1264,41:1580,46:9243,180:9559,185:10428,198:16730,231:17170,237:19764,250:20132,255:20868,268:22892,305:23628,314:25284,340:36844,480:37876,498:42176,527:42778,536:43466,547:44154,556:46734,606:62485,850:62777,855:63580,900:75769,1163:82551,1265:83586,1280:85311,1309:85794,1317:87381,1346:87657,1351:88623,1376:93890,1396:98426,1438:103594,1521:121650,1789:123344,1816:132400,1910:136080,1934:136400,1939:137280,1950:138000,1962:138320,1967:138800,1975:139120,1980:139920,1991:141120,2014:141600,2022:142080,2035:149213,2105:149710,2114:149994,2119:150278,2129:150562,2134:157449,2276:171788,2486:172424,2493:173166,2502:176876,2543:180215,2559:180555,2565:180895,2570:181320,2576:203160,2902:208476,2943:209496,2975:210210,2984:210720,2990:218310,3097:219054,3106:220077,3127:221565,3151:230134,3197:229804,3207:232700,3285:236512,3348:237844,3396:240878,3610:241248,3617:246110,3663$0,0:4108,44:10854,111:19445,252:19865,271:28290,325:28610,341:28930,346:29410,354:29890,361:30850,370:38556,435:39934,457:40718,466:44966,514:46436,563:49474,651:64110,859
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Robert Mack Bell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his father's childhood and explains how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about his parents moving to Baltimore, Maryland and their eventual separation

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell reflects upon his knowledge of his family's history

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about his parents' jobs

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell remembers his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell remembers his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell remembers childhood holiday traditions

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell remembers childhood activities and early lessons from his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his childhood neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 16 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 17 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his elementary school experiences at P.S. 101-A in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains why he completed elementary school at P.S. 139 in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his favorite subject from elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about his aspiration to become a lawyer

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his childhood personality and interests

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls attending Faith Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his experiences at Paul Laurence Dunbar Junior High School in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his teachers and principal at Paul Laurence Dunbar Junior High School in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his interests while attending Paul Laurence Dunbar Junior High School in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls meeting Reginald F. Lewis at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his first sit-in experience at Hooper's Restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland in 1960

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell speculates about the reasons high school students were recruited for civil rights sit-ins

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about his trespassing conviction during a sit-in at Hooper's Restaurant which led to Bell v. Maryland (1964)

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Bell v. Maryland (1964)

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about the careers of the lawyers and judges involved in the circuit court trial of Bell v. Maryland (1964)

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls the impact of the Bell v. Maryland (1964) trial on his senior year of high school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains his decision to attend Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls keeping up with his studies at Morgan State College after he was hospitalized for a year

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his experience at Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains his decision to attend Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his experience at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the late 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls the founding of BLSA, the Black American Law Students Association

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains how his academic success at Harvard Law School opened doors for other African American students

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his classes and professors at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his first job after law school with Piper & Marbury in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about being one of five African Americans to pass the Maryland State bar exam in 1969

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his experience at the law firm Piper & Marbury in 1969

Tape: 3 Story: 14 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about Piper & Marbury's plan to provide community legal services

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about his appointment to the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City in 1975

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains his decision to become a judge

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains the difference between the duties of a district court judge versus a circuit court judge

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains why he chose to move from the District Court of Maryland to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell reflects upon the value of his judgeship

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls memorable cases from his years as a judge for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about the challenges of serving as a judge

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes changes he has observed in criminal cases throughout his career as a judge

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about his experience on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell talks about his interest in the legal process as a judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell explains the difference between the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals of Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes the pace of work on the Court of Appeals of Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell describes his responsibilities as chief judge on the Court of Appeals of Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell reflects upon his achievements in light of his family background

Tape: 4 Story: 15 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell defines his judicial philosophy and approach

Tape: 4 Story: 16 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 17 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Robert Mack Bell narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

10$17

DATitle
The Honorable Robert Mack Bell recalls his first sit-in experience at Hooper's Restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland in 1960
The Honorable Robert Mack Bell reflects upon his life
Transcript
Were you starting to become a little bit more socially aware?$$Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I--you know, as you grow older--I mean, as I say, we were beginning to notice the, the women, we were beginning to notice a lot of things. But you gotta remember, we were still rather segregated in those days. I mean, I remember going to some conferences outside of the ghetto area [in Baltimore, Maryland], but that was an eye-opening experience. But I did have--in 1960, I did have a, a very interesting and I think important occurrence. That was when I got involved with sit-ins myself.$$And let's talk a little bit about your sit-in (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, see--$$--experience.$$Yeah, see we, we were--we [Bell and Reginald F. Lewis] ran for student government president in my junior--at the end of our junior year, so it would've been for the next year. So at the time that--at the spring of that year, I was student government president elect and this Morgan [State College; Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland] student came to [Paul Laurence] Dunbar [High School; Paul Laurence Dunbar High School for Health Professionals, Baltimore, Maryland] seeking some assistance.$$Morgan college students.$$Morgan State College. In, in those days it was a college, yeah, seeking some assistance in a planned demonstration that was gonna take place on the last day of school in June, and they needed someone to be point person in recruiting students. As student government president, you know, we--I was the one that they checked with and we got some--took some responsibility for trying to get the people together. And in fact when the day came, we did have some people. We got on the bus and we went downtown and participated in some picketing and ultimately, the group I was with ended up going in and sitting in at Hooper's Restaurant [Baltimore, Maryland].$$Hooper's?$$Hooper's, H-O-O-P-E-R-S, with the result that we were arrested. That didn't mean that we were physically arrested on the spot. What it does mean is that we were permitted to go home, that was a Friday, permitted to go home and come back that next Monday and then be fingerprinted and processed.$$So you weren't taken to jail.$$Not right then. No, we weren't taken to jail at all, did not spend a day in jail, but we were prosecuted. I was sixteen (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Were you scared?$$--at that time. Well, you're always scared when you don't know what's happening or you don't know what's going to happen. Yeah, I was scared in two ways, scared of what, what, what might happen, but also scared not to do it in a sense because it was something that I, I decided was important to do. And, and there was a third way, I guess, I was also a little bit concerned about what my mother [Rosa Lee Jordan Bell] would say and do because--$$What did your--what was your mother's reaction?$$She--once it was done, she was very supportive. If I had told her in advance, I'm not so sure she would have permitted me to do it. For that reason, I didn't tell her (laughter).$$And this was in 1960, right?$$Nineteen sixty [1960], yeah. This was--this would've been June 16th or 17th of 1960. Now, this is after the southern thing [Atlanta Student Movement]--$$Right.$$--because they--that all started in--that all started before.$$Right, I think it was in March--$$That's right, see, and--$$(Unclear) in March at southern--$$--and then before March, you had A & T [Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina; North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, North Carolina]--$$Um-hm. Right, exactly.$$--and so it moved up the coast, so--$Any regrets?$$Oh, no. Absolutely not. Why would I have any?$$None?$$That's right, I don't. I really don't.$$What haven't you done yet that you'd still like to do?$$Retire.$$(Laughter) And--$$I'm tired, that's all (laughter).$$When do you anticipate that happening?$$I have no idea. I--you know, I could retire tomorrow. I've been--I've been able to retire from the standpoint of the vesting of a pension since I was sixteen--see, sixteen years--almost fourteen years ago, but I don't know. I, I'm--I have no idea yet. I'll have to see. But I'm just tired right now, that's why I said that (laughter).$$And quickly, what, what are you gonna do when you retire?$$Again, I'll refer to Thurgood [Marshall]. Thurgood said, "I'm gonna sit on my butt, and that's right," (laughter).$$Thank you very much, [HistoryMaker] Judge [Robert Mack] Bell.$$Thank you.