PuLSE Institute Statement on Passing of Judge Damon Keith

DETROIT, MI. April 29, 2019- We mourn the loss of a great American and a champion for racial justice. Federal Judge Damon Keith died April 28 at the age of 96 after a long and distinguished career as a judge. The grandson of slaves, Judge Keith rose from incredible hardship to the pinnacle of American jurisprudence. For more than 50 years, he sat on the federal bench handing down decisions that directly challenged this nation’s conscience to be beacon of freedom for all of its people.

Judge Keith’s landmark rulings were rendered with precision and with the incredible weight of history that has informed this nation’s founding. That is why he never wavered in using the federal court system to right the wrongs of our sordid past. 

Whether it was breaking down the walls of segregation in public schools, dealing a blow to racial discrimination practices involving public bodies and corporations, Judge Keith’s rulings offered hope to oppressed and disenfranchised communities. 

In conferring an honorary doctor of laws to Judge Keith in 1981, then Yale University president A. Bartlett Giamatti said: “In your long career as a civic leader, lawyer and judge in your beloved Detroit, you have come to stand not only for the rule of law but for common sense in its application. You were a pioneer in fashioning the central role of the courts in ensuring equal justice and you had the courage to face and resolve as a judge the most divisive issues of our time. You have championed the causes of black Americans of working people, of dissenters and the poor.”

Judge Keith will be remembered as one of the greatest American legal giants of the 20th century, who used the Constitution as a powerful force against oppression and challenged the concept of white supremacy, as a legal theory that was reflected in the earlier decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

He demonstrated for us and the nation, how one individual can change the lives of many and countless others throughout history. We are a better people because of his indelible impact on the world. 

The PuLSE Institute

The PuLSE Institute is Detroit’s premier independent and non-partisan anti-poverty think tank committed to deep analysis of the broad spectrum of inequality issues affecting people. 

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