When Damon Keith was a student at West Virginia State University, in the early 1940s, he cleaned the floors in the school's auditorium as part of his work-study program.
Two days ago, in that same auditorium, he was a distinguished guest at the inauguration of Brian Hemphill, the university's 10th president. On Friday, ground was broken on the school's new residence hall, and it was christened the Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall in his honor.
Keith's life came a long way in the years in between. Now 91 years old, he has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit since 1977.
He's been awarded the NAACP's highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, written a number of notable court decisions, been the subject of a biography (to be released Nov. 1), and made a name for himself as an defender of constitutional and civil rights.
Among his decisions is one made in U.S. v. Sinclair: Keith wrote the decision - eventually upheld by the Supreme Court - that prohibited President Richard Nixon from engaging in warrantless wiretapping. He also wrote an opinion, more recently, ruling it unlawful for the Bush Administration to conduct deportation hearings in secret when the government asserted those involved could be linked to terrorism.
In 1939, though, Keith was just a high school graduate in Detroit with no prospects.
America was in the depths of the depression. Keith had five siblings and his father worked in a Ford Motor factory; there was no money to send him to college, as much as he wanted to go.
But Keith's mother was related to the wife of John Davis, West Virginia State's fifth president. And the summer after he graduated from high school, she visited Detroit.
He was playing outside on the sidewalk when she came to visit the family, and his mother called him inside to meet her. When Davis asked where Keith was going to college, his mother told her there was no money to send him.
Without missing a beat, Keith said, she told the family to send him to State - she would arrange for a way to work his way through school there.