Reflective mood Civil rights leader takes a look back - and ahead


– Photos by John Meiu

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It was billed as a “Community Conversation,” but in reality the program at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History offered admirers of Judge Damon J. Keith much more.

The federal jurist, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge since 1977, was in the Black History Month spotlight Monday evening, offering reflections on milestones in the civil rights movement and his hopes for restoring luster to Detroit in the years ahead.

The program was presented by Detroit Public Television with sponsorship help from the DTE Energy Foundation, and was emceed by Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of The Detroit Free Press and host of “American Black Journal” on DPTV.

Keith, praised by Dan Alpert of DPTV as “one of the nation’s leading defenders of civil and constitutional rights” over the past 50 years, took the stage with a convergence of significant events on his mind, principally the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 and the observance of Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday earlier this month.

King and Parks were just two of the civil rights pioneers that Keith came to know and “profoundly touched my life,” the judge said during remarks that preceded a question-and-answer session with Henderson.

“I was there alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the march down Woodward Avenue in 1963 and sat behind him as he gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech that he would give again in Washington a few months later,” Keith recalled of the watershed moment in American history.

He later told of coming to the aid of Parks in her later years after she had suffered a beating by an intruder at her Detroit home, asking his friend, real estate magnate and philanthropist Alfred Taubman, for his help in providing a safer place to live for the civil rights legend.

“And through the grace of Al Taubman, we were able to do this, to move her to a safe place,” Keith said, gladly repaying a debt of gratitude from years ago while also celebrating the fact that a statue of Parks was scheduled to be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol this week.


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