Dear campus community,
It’s a sad day at Wayne State University. Judge Damon Jerome Keith passed away yesterday, and we are all mourning the loss of this outstanding civil rights pioneer, federal judge and friend. I had the honor of being sworn in as the 12th president of Wayne State by Judge Keith, but it meant even more to me to have met the man. At my swearing-in ceremony, Judge Keith said, “For Wayne State to be great, it has to be good.” Since then, I have used those words as my guiding light in the leadership of Wayne State.
A quick litany of his accomplishments wouldn’t adequately tell the story of this great man, who served 10 U.S. presidents and led from the bench efforts to racially desegregate schools at a time when there was overwhelming opposition to such a move. His bravery and compassion marked every decision he made in his position as a federal judge, and we are all grateful for the momentous change he achieved in the national social conscience.
Judge Keith earned his law degree from Wayne State in 1956 and remained committed to his alma mater throughout his life. We opened the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights on our campus in 2011 to promote the educational, economic and political power of underrepresented communities in urban settings. Judge Keith was deeply committed to civil rights for all people, and the center upholds his values in everything it does.
Greatness is not randomly conferred on people. It comes from a place in the heart and the soul that defies easy explanation. Damon J. Keith was a great man. The Wayne State community mourns his passing and pledges to honor his legacy through our work in the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, and by striving to prepare the next generation of leaders to carry his work forward.
M. Roy Wilson