Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.® mourns the death of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties icon

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.® mourns the death of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties icon and Judge, Brother Damon Keith.

“Alpha brothers worldwide celebrate the courageous life and legal scholarship of our brother, Judge Damon Keith,” said Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. General President Everett Ward. “His tenacious resilience to fight against injustice serves as a role model as we continue to fight against discrimination.”

Brother Keith, who was the grandson of slaves and served in the segregated Army during World War II, was a November 30, 1939 initiate of the Alpha Zeta chapter at West Virginia State University in Institute, West Virginia. He was also a former member of the Gamma Lambda chapter in Detroit, Michigan.

For more than 50 years, Judge Keith’s rulings have had a profound impact not only on our community, but the country. Brother Keith’s stances and decisions epitomize the true spirit and courageousness of our great Fraternity.

Notably, Brother Keith has said he was inspired and always summoned the lessons of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brother Thurgood Marshall, who was previously one of his professors at Howard University.

During his long and prolific career, Judge Keith confronted efforts to limit African American voting as well as attacked racial segregation in housing, education, and employment with his decisions leading to the integration of both the Detroit Police Department and the Pontiac Public Schools.

That latter decision was reportedly one of the first of its kind in the North and resulted in massive busing, attacks on school buses, death threats against Brother Keith and the conviction of Ku Klux Klansmen for dynamiting 10 school buses.

In addition, Brother Keith is also most recognized for his fearless defiance of the Nixon administration when he ruled that they could not engage in warrantless wiretaps. He not only faced an appeal, but the government personally sued him. The U.S. Supreme Court later affirmed his decision and the landmark case is notably known as “the Keith case.”

A year before President Nixon resigned, he even ordered the government to disclose whether it used sabotage, agent provocateurs and “other espionage activities,” including burglary at a law office, to make its case against the militant group, the Weathermen. Rather than undergo a hearing of how they obtained evidence, the government withdrew their case.

Nearly 30 years later, in another landmark decision, he prevented President George W. Bush from conducting secret deportation hearings of terrorism suspects, saying “Democracies dies behind closed doors.” The Washington Post even paraphrased him with their slogan, “Democracy dies in the darkness,” which they have credited him.

In a time when civil liberties are once again under attack, our nation desperately needs to remember and perpetuate the courageous legacy of leadership of men like Brother Keith whose life constantly teaches us to tirelessly champion the causes of justice.


Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.®, headquartered in Baltimore, MD, was founded on December 4, 1906, at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. The Fraternity has long stood at the forefront of the African-American community’s fight for civil rights through Alpha men such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson, Andrew Young, Edward Brooke and Cornel West. The fraternity, through its more than 720 college and alumni chapters and general-organization members, serves communities in the United States, Canada, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. Visit and follow on Twitter @apa1906network.