Celebrating 75 Years

Wayne State University Press

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Crusader for Justice

Federal Judge Damon J. Keith

Compiled, written, and edited by Peter J. Hammer and Trevor W. Coleman
Foreword by Mitch Albom

Award Winner

African American Studies, Biography, Legal History

Published: November 2013
ISBN: 9780814338452
Pages: 368 Size: 6.25x9 Illustrations: 63
Published: November 2013
ISBN: 9780814338469

Judge Keith's example is a  gift-a man with a backbone of steel and the heart of a lion. Crusader for Justice gets my vote for the best legal biography of the year.

— Jennifer Granholm

The Honorable Damon J. Keith was appointed to the federal bench in 1967 and has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit since 1977, where he has been an eloquent defender of civil and constitutional rights and a vigorous enforcer of civil rights law. In Crusader for Justice: Federal Judge Damon J. Keith, authors Peter J. Hammer and Trevor W. Coleman present the first ever biography of native Detroiter Judge Keith, surveying his education, important influences, major cases, and professional and personal commitments. Along the way, the authors consult a host of Keith's notable friends and colleagues, including former White House deputy counsel John Dean, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and industrialist Edsel Ford II for this candid and comprehensive volume.

Hammer and Coleman trace Keith's early life, from his public school days in Detroit to his time serving in the segregated U.S. army and his law school years at Howard University at the dawn of the Civil Rights era. They reveal how Keith's passion for racial and social justice informed his career, as he became co-chairman of Michigan's first Civil Rights Commission and negotiated the politics of his appointment to the federal judiciary. The authors go on to detail Keith's most famous cases, including the Pontiac Busing and Hamtramck Housing cases, the 1977 Detroit Police affirmative action case, the so-called Keith Case (United States v. U.S. District Court), and the Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft case in 2002. They also trace Keith's personal commitment to mentoring young black lawyers, provide a candid look behind the scenes at the dynamics and politics of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and even discuss some of Keith's difficult relationships, for instance with the Detroit NAACP and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Judge Keith's forty-five years on the bench offer a unique viewpoint on a tumultuous era of American and legal history. Readers interested in Civil Rights-era law, politics, and personalities will appreciate the portrait of Keith's fortitude and conviction in Crusader for Justice.

More information can be found at crusaderforjustice.com

Damon J. Keith was born in Detroit, Michigan, on July 4, 1922. He is a graduate of West Virginia State College
(B.A. 1943), Howard University Law School (J.D. 1949) and Wayne State University Law School (LL.M. 1956). In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Keith to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan,
where he ultimately served as chief judge. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1977. As a member of the federal judiciary, Judge Keith has been a courageous defender of constitutional
rights, giving real meaning to the promise of "equal justice under law." Judge Keith is the recipient of numerous awards, most notably, the NAACP's highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, and the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a member of the federal judiciary.

Trevor W. Coleman is a national award-winning journalist, who has been an editorial writer, and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. He was chief speechwriter for former Michigan governor Jennifer M. Granholm and director of communications for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University and father of two college students, Sydnie and Trevor II.

Mitch Albom is an internationally renowned and best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster and musician. His books have collectively sold more than 35 million copies worldwide; have been published in forty-eight territories and in forty-four languages around the world; and have been made into Emmy Award-winning and critically-acclaimed television movies.

No one will ever forget Judge Keith's bold declaration in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft: 'Democracies die behind closed doors.' Nor will they forget his contributions to achieving social justice and racial justice through his decisions involving discrimination, national security, and civil liberties. Judge Keith came from humble roots in Detroit. Having suffered racial injustice first hand, he had the bravery to take the phrase 'equal justice under law' literally. Life experience matters, which is why diversity on the bench cannot be forsaken. Crusader for Justice, above all else, is a story of judicial courage-the story of a man unafraid to do what he knew was right.

– Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African American and African Research at Harvard University

In Crusader for Justice, Peter J. Hammer and Trevor W. Coleman show the Judge Damon Keith I know—his deep humanity, his courage on the bench, and his unyielding commitment to justice and fairness for all Americans, regardless of race or stature. This book shows the mind and soul behind the decisions that have guarded our civil liberties, enlarged our civil rights, and made America a better place for all its citizens.

– William J. Clinton, 42nd president of the United States

This book says a lot about the kind of difference one fellow being can make in this nation's hunger for democracy and justice. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for those who care about America's future.

– Harry Belafonte

Crusader for Justice is about more than just a man; it's a story about the human spirit. It's about our thirst for justice, draped in a robe. Judge Keith is my judge, my mentor, my second father . . . but I'm not the only one who is grateful for his example. He is the nation's judge, the country's conscience, the people's decider. Anyone who cares about equal justice for all must read this book and give it to everyone who cares about all of our citizens, from the streetsweeper to the CEO. Judge Keith's example is a gift—a man with a backbone of steel and the heart of a lion. Crusader for Justice gets my vote for the best legal biography of the year.

– Jennifer Granholm, former attorney general and 47th governor of Michigan

To a large extent, this book illuminates essential aspects of Keith’s judicial decisions. It is a must-read for all law students, and for anyone interested in civil rights history. The chapters focused on famous cases provide insight into the reasoning of affirmative action, and sound understanding of the role of the judiciary in the balance of power in government and society.

– Melba Joyce Boyd, Michigan Chronicle

In Crusader for Justice, readers are instantly drawn into the life of Federal Judge Damon J. Keith. Step by step, the authors reveal Damon Keith's experiences and challenges growing up in Detroit during avery racially unjust and charged period of time, and they give a poignant view of what Judge Keith actually overcame in his quest to first become an advocate for human rights for every person through his tenure as a judge . . . This book shows that one person can make a difference in helping lay the groundwork to set aside racial prejudices by treating people with compassion and respect.

– Chronicle of Michigan, Fall 2014, Chronicle of Michigan

Some 18 months after its release, the biography of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon
J. Keith has surpassed the 10,000 mark in copies sold, according to officials with
Wayne State University Press, the local publisher of "Crusader for Justice."
A compelling 277-page biography of the federal jurist, the book was written by Wayne
State Law professor Peter Hammer and former Detroit Free Press columnist Trevor
Coleman. It includes back cover testimonials from President Bill Clinton, former
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, entertainer Harry Belafonte, and Henry Louis
Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. For good
measure, the foreward to the book was penned by best-selling author Mitch Albom of
"Tuesdays with Morrie" fame.
"I would have to imagine that it is one of the top selling books that the Wayne Press
has ever published," said Judge Keith.
That fact was confirmed by Emily Nowak, marketing and sales manager for Wayne
State University Press, who said "we have been incredibly pleased with sales" since the
book was published in the fall of 2013.
"It’s one of our best-selling books based on how long it has been available, and we are
very pleased that it is a book we were able to publish and that it continues to do so well
for us," Nowak said. "We know that many copies have been introduced into schools
and libraries across the state of Michigan and we’re happy to be a part of making his
story available to this audience."
The Keith biography was years in the making, and traces his upbringing in a working class
neighborhood of Detroit during the dark days of the Depression to his rise to the
federal bench, a legal perch where he has left a lasting imprint on the law, particularly
as a staunch defender of equal rights.
"Crusader for Justice" was released in late November 2013 at a special Detroit
luncheon hosted by philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman, who died in April at the age of
91. A longtime friend of Keith, the real estate magnate donated $3 million to support
the creation of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University.
At the luncheon, Taubman said the book would serve a dual purpose.
"We are here to celebrate the amazing life and accomplishments of Judge Damon
Keith," Taubman said in his opening remarks. "At times he has been known as a tough
judge. Now, he is a judge who can really throw the book at you," he quipped.
The book has spawned a documentary movie, titled "Walk with Me: The Trials of
Judge Damon J. Keith."
The 90-minute film premiered June 17 during a showing at the newly christened Max
M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center in Detroit.
Directed by Jesse Nesser and sponsored by Ford and the DTE Energy Foundation, the
film offers a look at Keith’s life through a series of his landmark rulings, principally as
a judge on the U.S. District Court bench in the Eastern District of Michigan. The
executive producer of the film was Albom, who is Nesser’s uncle.
The film was shown by Nesser in Los Angeles at the recent annual convention of the
National Bar Association, the nation’s largest and oldest network of predominantly
African-American judges and attorneys.
"Jesse also is considering plans in the months ahead to show it to the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington," said Keith, who celebrated his 93rd birthday July 4 at
his family farm near Richmond, Va.
Keith, who earned his law degree from Howard University in 1949, was appointed to
the U.S. District Court in 1967 by then President Lyndon Johnson.
A decade later, he accepted an appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals, a federal
appellate court based in Cincinnati.
"At some point, I’m sure that copies of the movie will be available to the general
public, and we will announce it as soon as it happens," he said.

– Tom Kirvan, LegalNews

Selling over 10,000 copies since its publication in November 2013, "Crusader for Justice" (Wayne State
University Press, $29.95), the biography of Federal Judge Damon J. Keith, has flown off the shelves.
"I am flabbergasted that the book has done so well," Keith said. "I didn’t expect this, but I was hoping for it."
At the Wayne State University Press, initial print releases typically range from 2,500 to 5,000 copies over three
years, said marketing and sales manager Emily Nowak. The book was coauthored
by Peter J. Hammer and
former Free Press editorial writer Trevor W. Coleman.
"We are incredibly pleased that the book sold so many copies in just 18 months," Nowak said. "Of course we
did have high hopes for the judge’s story, but still, the sales far surpassed our expectations." A member of the metro Detroit book club Trureed also found the biography to be compelling. Member Yolanda Herbert said the book exceeded her
"Not only was it an excellently written history of the judge’s triumph over prejudice, which was something I didn’t know about, it was a love story," Herbert
"Even during times when the judge had to make unpopular decisions based on his idea of right and wrong, he showed compassion for his wife, and
treated her like a queen."

– Lauren Pankin, Detroit Free Press

  • 2014 Midwest Book Awards - Result: Finalist in the category of Biography