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WVSU grad, federal judge releases book

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Crusader for Justice," the biography of federal judge Damon Keith released earlier this month, will go behind the scenes of some of the country's landmark court cases, but will also have a ring of familiarity for West Virginia readers.

Keith, who has served on the United States Court of Appeals since 1977 and spearheaded nationwide civil and constitutional rights efforts, graduated from West Virginia State University in 1943 before moving on to the Howard University School of Law.

WVSU recently declared that its new residential hall would be named the Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall.

At a groundbreaking ceremony for the dormitory in September, Keith donated $50,000 to the university for scholarships, and cried as he recalled the first time he stepped onto State's campus.

It was the first time he had a black teacher, in the midst of the Great Depression, and he was the first in his family to go to college.

Keith credits his experience at WVSU for helping foster his passion for racial and social justice.

"West Virginia State shaped my entire future. It's like the cataracts in my eyes were taken off. I felt motivated," Keith said.

Keith went on to receive the Spingarn Medal -- the NAACP's highest honor. Fellow recipients include the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Colin Powell.

Keith's most famous cases include his work in his hometown of Detroit to propel desegregation, after the Ku Klux Klan made national headlines for bombing 10 empty school buses in protest.

He also paved the way for affirmative action issues in Detroit in the 1970s.

One of his rulings, commonly referred to as "The Keith Decision," prohibited President Richard Nixon and the federal government from engaging in warrantless wiretapping.

According to the Wayne State University Press (Keith attended the university prior to Howard), former President Bill Clinton said, "This book shows the mind and soul behind the decisions that have guarded our civil liberties, enlarged our civil rights, and made America a better place for all its citizens."

Journalist Trevor Colman wrote the biography with help from Wayne State University's Peter Hammer, a law school professor.

Wayne State now has a Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights department.

Famous journalist and author Mitch Albom, of "Tuesdays with Morrie" fame and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," wrote the forward for the book.

 For more information, visit crusaderforjustice.com.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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