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Damon J. Keith Papers

 Collection
Identifier: UP001582
The first installment of the papers of Damon J. Keith consists primarily of published material documenting important milestones in Judge Keith's career, his precedent-setting judicial decisions and the many honors and awards bestowed upon him for his dedication to the city of Detroit and his pioneering role in ensuring equal justice for all Americans.

Series I, Personal Files, 1946-1991: Correspondence, media references to Judge Keith and his family and material related to honorary degrees and other awards he received and to civic, cultural and educational institutions and activities with which he was associated, especially the annual Detroit NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.

Series II, Speaking Engagements/Publications, 1953-1991: Files related to Judge Keith's public appearances, including texts of speeches, and to published book reviews, newspaper articles and speeches.

Series III, Professional Files, 1967-1987: Files related to Judge Keith's judicial career, including significant cases he handled and his work for various professional associations.

Series IV, Subject Files, 1948-2001, Boxes 16-20: Papers, reports, newspaper clippings, magazine articles and other publications on a variety of topics and individuals of interest to Judge Keith.

Dates

  • 1948 - 2001
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 1989

Language of Materials

The papers are in English.

Extent

10 Linear Feet (20 MB)

Overview

The first installment of the papers of Damon J. Keith consists primarily of published material documenting important milestones in Judge Keith's career, his precedent-setting judicial decisions and the many honors and awards bestowed upon him for his dedication to the city of Detroit and his pioneering role in ensuring equal justice for all Americans.

Biographical Note

Damon Jerome Keith was born on July 4, 1922 in Detroit, Michigan, shortly after his father, Perry Alexander Keith, moved his wife, Annie Louise (Williams) Keith, and their five children from Atlanta, Georgia to take a foundry job at Ford Motor Company's Rouge plant.

After graduating from Detroit's Northwestern High School in 1939, Damon Keith became the first member of his family to attend college, earning a bachelor's degree from West Virginia State College, one of the nation's historically black schools, in 1943. He served three years in the U. S. Army and then, following the advice of his mentor, West Virginia State president, John W. Davis, enrolled in Howard University Law School, where Thurgood Marshall and others were planning the legal strategy for the civil rights battles of the 1950's. He received his LL.B. in 1949 and an LL.M. in labor law from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1956.

Keith spent the early years of his career with the black Detroit law firm of Loomis, Jones, Piper & Colden and on the staff of the Wayne County Friend of the Court. He was one of six Detroit attorneys invited to the White House in 1963 by then President John F. Kennedy to discuss the role of lawyers in the civil rights struggle. In 1964 he and four other black attorneys formed Keith, Conyers, Anderson, Brown & Wahls, setting up shop in what had previously been the all-white legal district of downtown Detroit. During this period he also served as chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and president of the Detroit Housing Commission. In 1967 President Lyndon Johnson, upon the recommendation of Michigan Senator Philip Hart, appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, only the second African American to sit on that court.

Judge Keith served on the district court from 1967 until 1977, becoming chief judge in 1975. During his tenure, he delivered several landmark rulings in civil rights and civil liberties cases: on school desegregation in Davis v. School District of the City of Pontiac (1970); on employment discrimination and affirmative action in Stamps v. Detroit Edison Co. (1973) and Baker v. City of Detroit (1979); and on housing discrimination in Garrett v. City of Hamtramck (1971) and Zuch v. Hussey (1975). But he is most frequently cited for his opinion in U.S. v. Sinclair (1971), dubbed the "Keith decision," which found wiretap surveillance in domestic security cases unconstitutional, absent a court order, a decision unanimously upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

In 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Keith to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit where he has served for the past twenty-five years, taking senior status in 1995. In the 1980's he served as chair of the Sixth Circuit and Judicial Conference committees commemorating the Bicentennial of the Constitution.

Over the course of his long career, Judge Keith has played an active role in a number of civic, cultural and educational organizations, including the Detroit YMCA, the Detroit Arts Commission, the Detroit Cotillion Club and Interlochen Arts Academy, and has been a tireless fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund and the Detroit NAACP. In addition, he serves as a deacon of the Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Judge Keith is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the NAACP's highest award, the Springarn Medal, in 1974, the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award in 1997, the prestigious Edward J. Devitt Award for Distinguished Service to Justice in 1998 and honorary degrees from Yale University, Georgetown University, the University of Michigan, Tuskegee University and over thirty other institutions. The Detroit Board of Education has named an elementary and middle school in his honor.

Damon Keith married Dr. Rachel Boone, an internist, in 1953. They have three daughters: Cecile Keith-Brown, Debbie and Gilda.

Arrangement of Materials

Arranged in four series. Series I: Personal Files, Boxes 1-5. Series II: Speaking Engagement/ Publications, Boxes 5-7. Series III: Professional Files, Boxes 7-16. Series IV: Subject Files, Boxes 16-20

Acquisition Information

The materials were acquired by Walter P. Reuther Library from Judge Keith in March 1994.

Related Materials

Detroit Commission on Community Relations/Human Rights Department, George C. Edwards, Jr., Wade H. McCree, Jr., William B. Gould IV,

New Detroit, Inc.

Transfers

Several photographs, a few videotapes, including a history of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, and other items of memorabilia received with the collection have been placed in the Archives Audiovisual Department.
Title
Damon J. Keith Papers
Subtitle
An Inventory of Holdings at the Walter P. Reuther Library
Status
completed
Author
Collection Description/Finding Aid prepared by Margaret Raucher.
Date
2002-08
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

Contact:
5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA