OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Bruce J. Dierenfield

Portrait of Bruce J. Dierenfield

Bruce Dierenfield is a professor emeritus of American history, a past director of the All-College Honors Program, and the former coordinator of the African-American Experience program at Canisius College. He has been recognized as a Peter Canisius Distinguished Professor and has received the college's Martin Luther King Jr. Award, its DiGamma Award for exceptional service to the institution, and its Kenneth L. Koessler Distinguished Faculty Award. He has taught at the University of Helsinki, the Universities of Cologne and Bonn (Fulbright), and the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies. He is the author of the prizewinning The Battle over School Prayer: How Engel v. Vitale Changed America (2007), as well as The Federal Role and Activities in Energy Research and Development, 1946-1980 (coauthor, 1983), Keeper of the Rules: Congressman Howard W. Smith of Virginia (1987), The Civil Rights Movement: The Black Freedom Struggle in America (2nd edition, 2021), A History of African-American Leadership (coauthor, 3rd edition, 2012), Disability Rights and Religious Liberty in Education: The Story Behind Zobrest v. Catalina Foothillls School District (coauthor, 2020). In addition, he is writing a biography of the Rev. George W. Lee of Mississippi, the first civil rights martyr after the Brown school desegregation decision, who was assassinated in 1955 for his voter-registration campaign.

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Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In 1988, the parents of a "profoundly deaf" boy named Jim Zobrest sued their public school district near Tucson, Arizona, to pay for a sign-language interpreter in a Catholic high school. The suburban district had not yet created a high school. With the famed Catholic attorney William Bentley Ball representing the Zobrests, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld a congressional law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Court determined that a child with a disability may receive government aid that only incidentally benefits a religiously affiliated institution. Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993) provides an important opportunity to look at the intersection of religion, education, law, and disability.
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