Nephew recalls Judge Damon Keith's legacy: 'democracy dies behind closed doors'

Through his passionate belief in the courts' role in protecting civil rights and his commitment to do what is right, the honorable Judge Damon Keith left an indelible mark on American history.

Born in Detroit on July 4, 1922, he was the youngest of six children and the grandson of slaves. Keith served in WWII before going to law school and ultimately becoming a federal judge who fought for social justice and racial equality. He died Sunday at the age of 96.

"His ultimate legacy is courage - the courage and conviction to do the right thing no matter what," said Luther Keith, reflecting on the extraordinary life of his uncle.

Keith laughs fondly when recalling his memories about his Uncle Damon. One time when he was a teenager, he got up the courage to ask his uncle if he could borrow $75 for a trip out west.

RELATED: Remembering Judge Damon Keith, 1922-2019

"I said I'll pay you back as soon as I can. At that point I was 16 years old, I'd never even had a job. But he gave me the money and I went out west and had the time of my life," he said.

But Judge Keith never let his nephew pay him back and then there were all the times that Uncle Damon made Luther a priority, much to the chagrin of some attorneys. 

"By the time he was a federal judge I'd go down to the courthouse and there would be like 20 or 30 lawyers in line to see him and I would come in and they would run me right in the spot. And it got back to him that hey, the lawyers are complaining that this young kid's coming down and we're out here for an hour to see you and who is this kid? He said that kid's my nephew so that kind of ended that," Luther said. 

As Luther prepares to say his final goodbyes, he reflects on the relevancy of Judge Keith's legacy. 

"His ultimate statement is what he'll be most remembered for is the statement that democracy dies behind closed doors and in today's times that still resonates with all that's going on in our nation," he said.