Funeral arrangements set for Judge Damon J. Keith

The funeral for Judge Damon Keith will be at 10 a.m. May 13 at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, 18700 James Couzens Freeway in Detroit.

Funeral arrangements announced Monday for celebrated U.S. District Judge Damon J. Keith include a public visitation next month at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Keith, one of the nation's longest-serving federal judges, died Sunday at the age of 96.

Keith's visitation will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 11, at the Wright Museum, 315 East Warren Ave., in Detroit. A fraternal memorial service led by Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Phi Pi is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the museum.

The funeral will be at 10 a.m. May 13, at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, 18700 James Couzens Fwy. in Detroit.  The services will be simulcast at Wayne State University's Community Arts Auditorium.

Burial will be at Roseland Park Cemetery, 29001 N. Woodward in Berkley.

Swanson Funeral Home Inc. is handling arrangements.

A grandson of slaves, Keith served as a judge over five decades, spanning the terms of 10 presidents.

He authored landmark rulings on race relations and civil liberties. In one of his decisions, Keith ordered the U.S. government, under President Richard Nixon, to stop wiretapping defendants without judicial approval in a case involving the anti-war White Panthers and the bombing of a CIA building in Ann Arbor.

Another of Keith's rulings, in 1970, led to the busing of students in the Pontiac schools to racially desegregate the district, sparking a backlash. The judge recalled receiving death threats, and the year after his decision, 10 Pontiac school buses were firebombed by members of the local Ku Klux Klan.

In a 2002 case, Keith rebuked the George W. Bush White House in a post-Sept. 11 decision ordering that "special interest" hearings in deportation cases be open to the public. Before the ruling, some 700 deportation cases had been heard behind in closed hearings, according to the federal government.

Tributes and accolades for Keith poured in from around Metro Detroit and the nation Monday including one from Democratic former Michigan Sen. Carl Levin.

"Damon Keith left our community and our nation a better, fairer place for all our people, and future generations will be the beneficiaries of his relentless pursuit of justice," Levin said.

Levin said his memories of Keith from 55 years ago "remain vivid to this day," saying that's when the judge became co-chairman of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission at its inception.

"I was the commission's first general counsel. The commission took on issues that were not yet established, like discriminatory practices in housing and by city officials. As a lawyer I was advising caution, but Damon was urging "full speed ahead."  Invariably his instincts were right, because they were grounded in fundamental values," said Levin.

"His opinions as a judge will stand the test of time because he saw the law as an instrument of justice. Damon Keith's character provided timeless reminders of how following a moral path in life can bring fulfillment and joy to those who strive for it and lasting benefit for the community of which one is a part.”

His influence extended to the former U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder Jr., who called Keith "an icon to many, including me."

"This nation is indebted to him for the work he did to make America more just," Holder said.  "But I am also personally indebted to him for blazing a trail that made it possible for me to become the nation’s first African-American Attorney General. 

"My career — and that of former President Barack Obama — would not have been possible without his tireless efforts to break down society’s racial barriers.  He was a friend and a mentor."  

In lieu of flowers, the Keith family is requesting that memorial tributes in his memory be made to The Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School" to empower the next generation of civil rights leaders."

Checks can be payable to: Wayne State University Law School, Keith Center for
Civil Rights, 471 W. Palmer St., Detroit, MI 48202.

Donations also can be made to the Dr. Rachel Boone Keith Prize Fund at the School of Medicine, Boston University.

Checks should be made payable to: “Trustees of Boston University.”
Note: Rachel Boone Keith Fund
Address: BU School of Medicine
75 Albany Street, L219, Boston, MA 02118

The Rachel Boone Keith Prize Fund is a permanently endowed fund established as a tribute by her family to provide annual awards to one or more fourth-year African American female students who demonstrate excellence in clinical performance at the Boston University School of Medicine.

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