DETROIT (AP) _ From scrubbing floors as a janitor to pounding gavels as a prominent federal judge, Detroit civil rights legend Damon J. Keith has accomplished plenty.
But the 92-year-old mover-and-shaker isn’t done making headlines.
He’s about to hit the silver screen, according to the Detroit Free Press ( http://on.freep.com/1Imd3DX ).
On June 17, Detroit’s Fisher Theatre will host the world premiere of “Walk With Me, the Trials of Damon J. Keith” _ a documentary that follows America’s journey from segregation to electing an African-American president. Viewers will see this transition through the eyes of Keith, a native Detroiter who grew up in poverty, scrubbed floors to get through college and law school, and went on to become one of the highest-ranking federal judges and civil rights crusaders in the country.
Keith, who is now on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, has spent his decades-long legal career fighting racism, segregation and social injustices _ all of which he has endured.
Perhaps most notable and gut-wrenching was a 1991 experience that Keith talks candidly about in the movie’s trailer.
Keith, then 69, had just left a hotel with hundreds of other judges when a man stepped out of his car and said to him, “Boy, will you park my car?”
The sitting federal judge, the chairman of the Committee on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, was startled _ but not broken.
“There’s not a day that passes _ in some way large or small _ I’m not reminded of the fact that I’m black,” Keith says in the trailer. “Why would just seeing my face make this white driver think only that I was a doorkeeper? It’s an incident that takes place all the time . but you don’t become bitter. One person can make a difference. And I hope that my life will make a difference in terms of letting people know the struggles we have to go through.”
Keith’s nearly 50 years on the bench have produced numerous historic rulings.
He prohibited President Richard Nixon and the federal government from engaging in warrantless wiretapping. He helped desegregate schools, break racial lines at corporations and required municipalities to repair damage caused by systemic racism.
No doubt, says Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen.
Keith’s life is documentary-worthy.
“Damon is legend, not only within our judiciary, he’s a legend for all of us who have followed the civil rights movement over the decades,” Rosen said. “He’s a treasure for the city of Detroit, and a great mentor for those of us who have tried to follow his example.”
Rosen noted that Keith’s portrait hangs over his shoulder in the chief judge’s courtroom.
“It’s a privilege to have him watching over me,” Rosen said.
Rosen looks forward to seeing his longtime colleague on the big screen. The film’s executive producer is Free Press columnist Mitch Albom.
Production crews spent the last several months filming at several locations that played a role in both Keith’s personal story and historic events that shaped the nation.
From Detroit and Howard University, where he was mentored by Thurgood Marshall, to the bus made famous by his late friend Rosa Parks, the documentary will shed light on a variety of events, people and court cases that changed civil rights in America.
The production team organized a shoot in Keith’s childhood neighborhood in Detroit. While driving through the neighborhood _ now an empty field of long grass and a few abandoned houses _ Keith pointed out where his childhood friends had lived and where he used to spend time when he was a young boy.
Keith has never lost sight of where he came from.
In a past interview with the Free Press, when asked what advice he would give his granddaughter and others who had recently become lawyers, he said, “I tell them … they are walking on floors they did not have to scrub and they’re going through doors they did not open. I want you to scrub floors so people who follow you . and walk on them, and open doors that didn’t open for you … We’ve got to leave a legacy.”
Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com