New documentary explores the legacy of Detroit Judge

196d8c_7e07f4940bb84a50a834eb105f6fe087The Traverse City Film Festival debuted Walk With Me, a Michigan film about Detroit Judge Damon J. Keith.

Judge Keith was born in 1922 and as a federally appointed African American judge he was instrumental in cases dealing with segregation, workers rights, public housing, and even wiretapping.

Ben Thorp sat down with Judge Keith to talk about the film.

Keith: I’m Damon J. Keith, a federal court of appeals judge for the 6th circuit.

Ben: Judge I didn’t know any of your history before watching this movie and I’m wondering if you’ll talk about what to you are the most important cases you’ve sat on?

Keith: The cases that I sat on were the… six cases I guess. Of course the Keith case where I stopped President Nixon and Mitchell from wire tapping, DTE Edison where I fined them 4 million dollars for discrimination, of course the union I fined 250-thousand for not representing for not representing the union members, the Hamtramck case where I called it ‘black removal’ because the city of Hamtramck and the federal government destroyed all of these black houses in the neighborhood and made no effort to re-establish housing in the city of Hamtramck for them. Then of course the police case, the Detroit police case was completely segregated.

Ben: Do you see yourself as a major figure in the civil rights effort? These are all huge cases that you helped to..

Keith: Well I’m not a civil rights advocate but I do believe in the four words etched in the Supreme Court ‘equal justice under law.’

Ben: Do you think you’ve made major changes in the law?

Keith: I think the fact that we’re discussing these cases now, as I say all of them were affirmed on appeal and our cases have changed the course of legal history in the country. They are still quoting the Keith case.

Ben: Do you see that… for me I look out and I feel like we’ve taken steps back in terms of racial equality. I’m wondering as someone who has lived through it, how do you see it?

Keith: I don’t think we’ve taken any steps backwards when we have a black Chief of Police, DTE now has black vice presidents there. It’s just tremendous progress but we still have a long ways to go, but the journey of a million miles begins with the initial step. I think we have made the initial step and things are better.

Ben: Is there a particular thing you want people to walk away with when they see the movie?

Keith: The one thing I would like for all of us to remember is that one person can make a difference. We’re walking on floors we did not scrub, we’re going through doors we did not open. Let us do a few more scrubbing of floors so others can walk on them, let us do more opening of doors so others can go through them.