Judge Damon J. Keith at Keith Scholars Hall dedication

Estate of Judge Damon J. Keith Makes Significant Financial Commitment to Scholarship Fund at West Virginia State University

Contact: Jack Bailey
(304) 766-4109
Dec. 18, 2019
Estate of Judge Damon J. Keith Makes Significant Financial Commitment
to Scholarship Fund at West Virginia State University
Late Justice Known for Landmark Civil Rights Rulings was a 1943 State Alumnus

INSTITUTE, W.Va. – The estate of U.S. District Court Judge Damon J. Keith has made a $100,000 bequest to an endowed scholarship fund at West Virginia State University (WVSU) that was established in honor of the late justice.

Keith, who passed away in April, was a 1943 graduate of what was then West Virginia State College. He served more than five decades on the federal bench first as a U.S. District Court judge and later on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Our father, Judge Damon J. Keith, would frequently say, ‘I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t gone to West Virginia State,’” said Keith’s daughter, Cecile Keith Brown. “This institution and its then President, John W. Davis, played a critical role in the formation of Dad’s success.  It is with gratitude that Dad elected to make a gift to the Damon J. Keith Scholarship Fund in his will.”

Following graduation from State, Keith would go on to graduate from the Howard University Law School in 1949 and the Wayne State University Law School in 1956.

As a member of the federal judiciary, Keith stood as a courageous defender of the constitutional and civil rights of all people. In United States v. Sinclair, commonly referred to as “the Keith Decision,” the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith's landmark ruling prohibiting President Richard Nixon and the federal government from engaging in warrantless wiretapping in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

More recently, in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, Keith stood up to President George W. Bush during the aftermath of 9/11. Writing for a unanimous United States Court of Appeals panel, Judge Keith declared “Democracies die behind closed doors,” and ruled it unlawful for the Bush administration to conduct deportation hearings in secret whenever the government asserted that the people involved might be linked to terrorism.

Keith was the recipient of numerous awards during his lifetime, including the NAACP's highest award, the Spingarn Medal. Other prominent honors included the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the National Anti-Defamation League and the Detroit Urban League's Distinguished Warrior Award.

In 2005, Harvard University's Department of Afro-American Studies included Keith in its African-American National Biography, a collection of biographies profiling eminent African-Americans. The Detroit Board of Education has dedicated one of its primary schools in his honor, naming it “The Damon J. Keith Elementary School.”

Keith received more than 40 honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the country. In 2010, Keith was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.  In 2011, the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School opened its doors.

In 2013, WVSU broke ground on a new residence hall on campus to be named in honor of Keith, the Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall.

“West Virginia State College shaped my entire future,” Keith said at the time. “I had gone to school in Detroit from kindergarten through high school and I had never had a black teacher. When I came here to West Virginia State College, it was all black at that time. We had black Ph.D.’s on the faculty. It looked as though the cataracts in my eyes were taken off because of my experience here. I felt motivated. Seeing these great black leaders come and inspire us as young black students.”

The endowed scholarship fund established in Keith’s honor is designed for Detroit area public school students who demonstrate academic achievement, as well as a commitment to leadership and service to humanity.  At WVSU, Keith Scholars must continuously strive for academic excellence by maintaining a minimum 3.25 grade point average, while making satisfactory progress towards degree completion.

Follow West Virginia State University on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @WVStateU.
West Virginia State University is a public, land grant, historically black university, which has evolved into a fully accessible, racially integrated, and multi-generational institution, located in Institute, W.Va. As a “living laboratory of human relations,” the university is a community of students, staff, and faculty committed to academic growth, service, and preservation of the racial and cultural diversity of the institution. Its mission is to meet the higher education and economic development needs of the state and region through innovative teaching and applied research.
- WVSU -
Scroll to Top