“Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon Keith”

A new documentary celebrates Detroit jurist whose historic rulings will long be remembered in the halls of social justice
Free screening at the Charles H. Wright Museum on Tuesday, May 28, at 6 p.m.

The great jurist and civil rights leader, Judge Damon J. Keith, died last month. In honor of his memory, Detroit Public TV and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History are hosting a free public screening of a documentary on his life, “Walk With Me: The Trials of Judge Damon J. Keith.”

The film, by Detroiter Jesse Nesser, tells the story of the federal judge who championed the cause of equality and racial justice on the federal bench for more than 50 years and whose rulings forever changed the face of civil rights in the United States.

The screening will take place at the Charles Wright Museum at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28, and will be followed by a panel discussion of Keith’s legacy.


Born on July 4, 1922, in Detroit, Keith grew up poor in a segregated city, constantly reminded of his second-class status. He waited on tables to work his way through West Virginia State College. After serving in a racially divided military in World War II, he returned home to a nation that had defeated hatred and intolerance abroad, but had yet to bring full equality to its own shores.

He received his law degree from Howard University and a master of law degree from Wayne State.

Judge Keith was first appointed to the U.S. District Court in Detroit, in 1967, only three months after the city’s deadly civil uprising. A rookie judge and an African American, he faced controversy almost immediately when four divisive cases landed on his docket—all of which concerned hidden discriminatory practices that were deeply woven into housing, education, employment and police institutions.

Judge Keith shook the nation as he challenged the status quo and faced off against angry crowds, the KKK, corporate America and even a sitting U.S. President.

As Judge Keith was reshaping civil rights at the local level, his rulings began setting precedents for change across the nation. Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld every one of his decisions.

“Walk With Me” interweaves Judge Keith’s life with those of his colleagues, his contemporaries in the struggle for civil rights, his daughters and, most movingly, the people whose lives were changed by his decisions.

After the film, there will be a discussion of Judge Keith’s life and impact. The panel will consist of:

Jesse Nesser, the film’s director and producer
Peter Hammer, director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at the Wayne State Law School

Melba Joyce Boyd, distinguished professor of African-American Studies at Wayne State University

Ken Coleman, author and journalist, specializing in African-American history, civil rights and education

Charles Ezra Ferrell, vice-president of public programs at the Charles Wright Museum, will moderate

Please join us for this tribute to Damon Keith, a fearless man and extraordinary judge whose rulings still resonate for our nation.