Kelman’s archival collection is now open for research at WSU.
Several weeks ago, I received a call from Estelle Babitch, sister of Maurice “Maury” Kelman. She let me know that Kelman’s archival collection was now open for research at the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University.
Kelman may not be a name universally recognized by Detroit’s Jewish community but, in his day, he was as well-known as any Detroit “insider.”
Beginning in the 1960s, Kelman worked in many capacities in the city, advising and engaging judges, politicians and other civic leaders on a wide range of topics, including education, race relations and campaign finance. To say the least, he was a strong voice for civil rights in Michigan and America, and for constitutional law.
Kelman was born in 1935 and earned his law degree at WSU. He graduated first in his class and edited the Wayne State Law Review. Kelman was subsequently accepted to the Michigan Bar in 1959 and became a professor at Wayne State in 1963.
Soon after, he accepted an appointment to the staff of Federal Judge Wade H. McCree Jr., who was a highly respected legal mind. In 1977, for example, President Jimmy Carter appointed McCree as the first African American Solicitor General of the United States.
Kelman returned to Wayne State in 1970 and remained there until his retirement. He passed away in 2016 at age 80.
Beyond a distinguished career as a classroom teacher, Kelman became well-known in Detroit and Michigan politics. Indeed, one look at his archives at the Reuther Library and this fact becomes very clear.
Kelman was a special counsel for Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh in the 1960s. In fact, I met “Maury” when curating an exhibit on Cavanagh at the Reuther in the 1990s and interacted with him during the rest of my career at Wayne State. I can personally attest that he was a good guy.
There are several interesting articles in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. Letters to the JN editor and articles that he penned demonstrate Kelman was not afraid to voice his opinion or take a stand, no matter the consequences.
Although recognized for his support of civil rights and racial equality, especially through his work for the ACLU, Kelman was quick to point out anti-Semitism wherever he found it.
In the Aug. 3, 1990, issue of the JN, he wrote about the NAACP’s actions: “A Weak Response to Black Anti-Semitism.” In the May 13, 1988, issue, Kelman wrote a critical piece about New York Times reporting on a bus hijacking in Israel, asking why terrorists were called “guerillas” instead of “terrorists?”
Another article on April 2, 1965, spoke to Kelman’s defense of the principle of free speech, when he and African American Detroit lawyer Charles Quick defended a local Nazi who had distributed leaflets that Kelman personally found “hateful and obnoxious.”
Maury Kelman did his best to protect individual rights in Detroit and Michigan, and work toward better government. He was often a lone voice in his pursuit of ideas of justice. But that never stopped him.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.