Nate Conyers: Damon Keith a fighter for equality

Nate Conyers

God must have had a plan for Damon J. Keith. He was born on the Fourth of July, a day reserved to honor our country’s journey toward freedom for all. He started his journey at Howard University, where he heard prominent black attorneys like Thurgood Marshall practicing Supreme Court oral arguments that would change the country. He came back to Detroit and established a black law firm to follow in that tradition.

At that time, I was attending Wayne Law and was hired by Damon to be his first law clerk. He promised to pay me $35 per week. I accepted immediately. However, as time went on, I discovered that I was not being paid every week. I calculate that he still owes me $650!

In 1964, Damon decided to establish his own law firm which ultimately became Keith, Conyers, Anderson, Brown and Wahls. Under Damon’s direction, we sent lawyers across the country to represent people arrested for their civil rights activity. In Philadelphia, Damon sent me to represent over 500 people who had been arrested and jailed for participating in demonstrations. Upon arriving, I was sent to a black family’s safehouse — a place where outside lawyers and activists could stay to help the protesters. Two days later, a white attorney named Dean Robb joined me to integrate the safehouse for the first time.

Damon’s fight against racism as an attorney was the precursor to his legacy on the federal bench, which began 50 years ago this month. The rest is history.

Congratulations, Judge Damon J. Keith, my friend, on a lifetime of fighting for equality for all people.

Nate Conyers

Former law partner