When Detroit’s most notable citizens, business executives and dignitaries gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum on Tuesday May 17 for the 13th annual Ford Freedom Awards, the event took on an historic air all its own. The Champions of Justice event also marked the 57th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education landmark Supreme Court decision that set aside the long-standing separate but equal doctrine.
Many of Michigan’s most respected legal minds and gifted educators joined with Ford Motor Company executives to commemorate the occasion and honor one of Detroit’s favorite sons, the Honorable Judge Damon Keith, who received the Ford Freedom Scholar Award. Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge and the first African American woman to serve in the New York State senate, was honored posthumously.
“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized for continuing to embody the principles Constance Baker Motley lived by. She was my friend and colleague and a trailblazer in the Civil Rights Movement. As a judge, she was committed to toppling public desegregation in America,” Judge Keith said in his remarks. Baker Motley wrote the original complaint in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Judge Keith is best known for his game-changing legal ruling that forced the Nixon administration to disclose the transcripts of illegal wiretaps that felled that president in the era known as the Watergate scandal. Later, another decision which would become widely known in legal circles as the “Keith case” contributed to then-President Jimmy Carter signing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“This year’s Ford Freedom Awards celebrates two iconic judges who have dedicated their lives to the principles on which our country was founded,” said Ziad Oojalki, Ford Motor Company’s group vice president for government and community relations.
Edsel Ford III referred to Keith as a “close family friend” in his tribute to the legendary jurist. And in his acceptance speech the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge acknowledged and thanked the younger Ford for his warm comments.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing added, “Judge Keith is one of the special people, not only in this city, but in this country, and everything he gets … he deserves.”
Minnijean Brown-Trickey, of the heroic Little Rock Nine group of black students who braved the desegregation of Arkansas’ school system, also attended.
Detroit’s African American Museum is the nation’s premier institution of its kind, and houses the world’s most impressive collection of African American cultural artifacts.
The Ford Freedom Awards program is made possible by a grant from Ford Motor Company. Proceeds of the event benefit the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American fundraising efforts. –roz edward
For more information, please visit www.fordfreedomaward.com.