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Allen Park — Jim Caldwell visited downtown Detroit Wednesday night for an opportunity to learn more about someone he considers a great man.

The Lions coach attended the premiere of the film "Walk with Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith" at the Max Fisher Music Center.

"Very rarely do you get an opportunity to stand in the midst of greatness," Caldwell said Thursday. "He has integrity, he's bright, he has courage and he's certainly had a tremendous impact on his fellow man."

Keith, 92, has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court since 1977 and is widely regarded as a man who has protected the constitutional rights of many Americans.

According to Keith's Wayne State bio, where the Detroit native received his Master of Laws degree, he prohibited President Richard Nixon and the federal government from executive warrantless wiretaps and stopped President George W. Bush's administration from holding deportation hearings in secret after 9/11.

Keith has also played a role in breaking some of the racial barriers that once existed in this country, and he's received more than 40 honorary degrees, including one from Harvard.

"I certainly was aware of a number of things that he had done from the judicial platform, his standing just in terms of this community, this state and then our country," Caldwell said. "So. I had a chance to go to his chambers not long after I'd arrived (in Detroit last year), had a chance to sit down and talk with him. He's an incredible person."

With Caldwell at the documentary screening Wednesday night, he was unable to attend New Detroit's "Closing the Gap" awards dinner in which the Lions were honored for being the NFL's only team with a black head coach and general manager. Lions president Tom Lewand accepted the award at Cobo Center.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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