Hamtramck’s long-standing housing discrimination lawsuit has lost a key player.
Federal Justice Damon Keith, who oversaw the case since the 1970s, died recently at the age of 96.
Keith, an African-American who championed civil rights, oversaw a number of famous cases going back to the 1960s.
He famously wrote in one opinion: “Democracy dies behind closed doors.”
That statement holds special meaning in today’s divisive political world.
It’s a shame Keith won’t see the housing case finally come to an end. But circumstances beyond his control saw to it that this tragic case would linger and linger for years.
Back in the 1960s, Hamtramck city officials devised a plan to demolish the housing of a mostly African-American neighborhood, under the guise of a federally-funded urban renewal project.
City officials abused the good intentions of the program by using federal funds to target a black community and drive them out.
A class action lawsuit was later filed, and the city eventually agreed to build new houses for the aggrieved. But then federal funding dried up, and there was no way the city could come up with the hundreds of thousands of dollars to make good on the agreement.
Under President Obama, federal funding was finally loosened up to complete that agreement. The city has three more houses to go to meet the agreed-upon 200 new housing units.
Yes, just three more houses to go, which are expected to be built this year.
Judge Keith missed it by a hair.
Several years ago, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony here at one of the houses built for the plaintiffs, Judge Keith conceded it was not much of a victory.
Way before then, most of the plaintiffs had died of old age. Only their children were left to inherit the new houses, and many of them are of older age themselves.
Judge Keith repeated an old legal adage that was both fitting and bittersweet:
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said at the ribbon cutting.
May 10, 2019