Federal jurist to play leading role in parade

By all accounts, the last few years have been particularly grand for Damon J. Keith, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge who has served on the federal bench since 1967.

In the summer of 2012, the Detroit native celebrated his 90th birthday, receiving a royal salute from scores of well-wishers on the milestone occasion.

A year later, he was in the literary spotlight with the release of "Crusader for Justice," a riveting biography of Keith that was written by Wayne State Law Prof. Peter Hammer and former Detroit Free Press columnist Trevor Coleman.

In 2015, Keith was back in the limelight with the premiere of the 90-minute documentary, "Walk with Me: The Trials of Judge Damon J. Keith," a spell-binding film offering a look at his life through a series of his landmark rulings, principally as a judge of the U.S. District Court bench in the Eastern District of Michigan. The film recently played to rave reviews at the popular Traverse City Film Festival.

This fall, the 94-year-old jurist will add another highlight to his growing collection when he serves as grand marshal of the Thanksgiving Parade through downtown Detroit.

He will join an impressive lineup of former grand marshals, including television star Tim Allen, Olympic gold medal winning ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Ford Jr., and WJR radio personality Paul W. Smith among others.

"As we embark upon our 90th year of America's Thanksgiving Parade presented by Art Van, we could not think of a finer person than Judge Damon Keith to serve as co-grand marshal," said Tony Michaels, president and CEO of the Parade Co., in a prepared statement. "He is a great gift to our city and celebrating his accomplishments on Woodward Avenue Thanksgiving morning will be a magical moment for all Detroiters and the millions of people who watch the parade across the country."

The theme of this year's parade is "90 Years Together," according to Michaels, who noted that a second grand marshal also will be named. Such a theme seems particularly fitting for Keith, who has devoted his career to promoting social justice and equality.

"I am deeply honored to have been selected," said Keith, who grew up in Detroit and graduated from Northwestern High School. "I am deeply humbled to have been chosen as a co-grand marshal for the parade, which has been a Thanksgiving fixture in Detroit for so many years."

The parade, which is principally sponsored by the furniture company Art Van, is featured on WDIV-TV and WJR Radio, and is expected to be broadcast in 160 across the country.

Earlier this week, Keith was center stage for a dedication ceremony at Lipke Park in Detroit where a ball field was named in his honor.

Detroit Tigers great Willie Horton accompanied Keith to the event, which showcased the newly renovated field that was funded by the nonprofit charity S.A.Y. Detroit, along with the Detroit Tigers Foundation, and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint program between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.

"God has been so good to me, continually blessing me with many wonderful and unexpected honors," said Keith. "I am grateful and forever humbled."

Published: Thu, Sep 01, 2016