In Memoriam: Legal Pioneer

Federal Judge Damon J. Keith, Howard University School of Law alumnus, passed away in April 2019 at 96 years old. He graduated from HUSL in 1949 and went on to become a pioneer in the legal profession. Judge Keith became one of the first African American’s on the federal bench, serving as a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (1967–77) and for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (1977–2019). He was a longtime advocate for social justice and the fight for civil rights.

Damon Keith

Judge Keith was not only a proponent of civil rights and justice, but he was also a mentor to some of the country’s most prominent legal minds, including former Michigan Attorney General and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Harvard Law School

Professor Lani Guinier and Judge Eric Clay of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit. He was also co-founder of the Detroit NAACP’s annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner and recipient of the organization’s highest honor, the Springarn Medal, which has been bestowed upon African American luminaries such as Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson and Medgar Evers.

Throughout his career, Judge Keith received more than 40 honorary degrees, including a Doctor of Laws in 1974 from Howard University, and some of the highest honors from civic, academic and civil right groups across the country.

One of his notable accolades occurred in 2011, when Wayne State University opened the Damon Keith Center for Civil Rights in the University’s law school. He also received the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, the highest award that can be bestowed on a member of the federal judiciary.




“Connecting You to HU” is our goal. Howard alumni truly define this university and reinforce the powerful legacy that is our alma mater.