'Crusader' - Judge Keith's book reaches publishing milestone


– Photo by Robert Chase

Following a special luncheon at the Detroit Athletic Club in November 2013, Judge Damon J. Keith (right) signed copies of his book for well-wishers.

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

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 William 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 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 last week in Los Angeles at the 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 B. 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.