Detroit — More than 300 people gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Saturday for a celebration of Judge Damon J. Keith's 50th year on the federal bench.
Keith, 95, has become one of the longest-serving federal jurists and holds some of the nation’s boldest rulings and legal opinions framed around race and civil liberties.
He was named a U.S. district judge by President Lyndon Johnson in October 1967. A decade later, President Jimmy Carter elevated him to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. His journey has not been easy, but Keith said he hopes his legacy will live on through "equal justice under law."
The keynote address was given by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said: "No one has served longer and better than Keith. He's the prince of federal judging," and Edsel B. Ford II, a co-chair of the event, called him Detroit's favorite son.
Other speakers Saturday included Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, former law clerk Constance Rice, eldest daughter Cecile Keith Brown, newspaper columnist and author Mitch Albom and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit.
After finding out Oct. 16 was Keith's 50th year anniversary on the bench, Duggan announced he made that date Detroit's Damon Keith Day.
Keith's youngest daughter, Gilda Keith, said she was thankful for Saturday's event and doesn't think her father will retire soon.
"He says he will be bored if he doesn't go to the office every day," Gilda Keith said.
Muyiwa Bamiduro, a former law clerk of Keith's, said the judge's legacy will be "an example of doing good through acting justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God," referencing scripture Micah 6:8.
Guests enjoyed a night full of food and live music by the Gabriel Brass Band. They also watched an abbreviated version of the "Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith" documentary.
"We don't know how you do it or how you've done it, but I know where it began," said Albom during his speech. "It began with your name, Damon, born to into love, kindness ... and since Damon is a Greek legend, you were born to legendary status as well. You were born to do great, and I'm proud to be your friend."
Gala tickets were sold for $150 to benefit the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School and the Wright museum.
Keith spoke at the end of the celebration thanking more than 60 of his law clerks in attendance, speakers, sponsors and officials of the museum.
"If Charles H. Wright is looking down on us now, which I think he is, he'd say, 'look how far we've come,'" Keith said.
Keith said he is proud his work will continue after he has left the bench through those studying civil justice at the Damon J. Keith Center.