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New Film Explores Stunning, Untold Story of Black Federal Judge Who Fought Back Against Racism

A new documentary will feature the incredible life, resiliency and toughness of Detroit native judge Damon Keith.

According to The Washington Post, Keith worked as a janitor before graduating from Howard University’s School of Law. The now 94-year-old faced various obstacles in his illustrious career.  In 1967, Keith was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Detroit three months after the race riots tore apart the metropolis.

Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith, directed by Jesse Nesser, dives into the racial backlash he received in his first decade. Many of Keith’s rulings challenged white supremacy and racism at a time when Black people were still protesting in the streets.

He made rulings ending segregation in a Hamtramck, Michigan community. However, he used his role as a judge to protect Black people when they needed him most. Keith ruled in a case that would allow Black students to be bused amidst blow back against integration. These rulings put a target on his back.

Keith also stood up to the federal government in the case United States v. Sinclair (1971). He ruled the United States could not wiretap or spy on citizens without legally obtaining a search warrant and providing transcripts. Furthermore, Keith argued that President Richard Nixon’s Attorney General John N. Mitchell had violated citizens’ rights.

“We are living in a time when his story and his cases couldn’t be more relevant. He ruled on pioneer discrimination cases that dealt with our schools, neighborhoods, employment practices and racial balances on police force,” Nesser told CBS Detroit.

Keith still resides on the 6th Circuit Court. Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith will have screenings nationwide.

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