First African American Westchester County Legislator From Yonkers Dies: Was 'Revered Figure'

Westchester is mourning the loss of its first African American County Legislator known as an iconic figure who fought for civil rights and equality for all. 

Former Westchester County Legislator Herman Keith. 

Former Westchester County Legislator Herman Keith. 

Photo Credit: Westchester County Government

Former Westchester County Legislator and Yonker resident Herman Keith died on Saturday, June 22 after a long illness due to complications with Alzheimer’s disease, Westchester County officials announced on Wednesday, July 3.  

Keith, who Westchester officials called a "revered figure," was originally from Alabama and served in the US Army, eventually rising to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He later moved to Yonkers and worked as an engineer for the  Perkin Elmer Optical Company and as an underwater research scientist for Columbia University. 

During his time in Yonkers, Keith developed a deep passion for advocating for civil rights. This led him to the position of President of the Yonkers Branch of the NAACP, where he led a landmark desegregation lawsuit against the city. 

The lawsuit eventually led to the first steps for equal access to integrated education and fair housing opportunities for all residents, county officials said.

Keith's historic accomplishments did not stop there, as he also became the first African American elected to the County Board of Legislators in 1983. He continued in this role for 12 years, including time as Minority Whip and Minority Leader. 

His long list of legislative achievements included the South Africa Divestment Bill; the Banks Community Reinvestment Act; youth employment job training programs; health care initiatives; the Invest in Kids Program; and JobSTAR. 

"His open-mindedness and dedication to quality service earned him the respect of his colleagues and constituents," county officials said. 

In addition to his political service, Keith also spent much of his life advocating for the development of young African American men, speaking at schools, civic organizations, and religious institutions while promoting self-worth and positive self-image. 

Even later in his life, he continued his hard work and founded the Hudson River Consulting Group, which provided services in development and construction. The group became "invaluable" to businesses seeking funding, grants, and loans, according to officials.

He served as a consultant on several major projects including the Yonkers Police & Firefighter Recruitment Program and the Westchester County Waterfront study. 

Keith, whose age was not released, is survived by his wife, Gail Adams, and his five children. 

A memorial service for Keith will be held on Saturday, July 20 at 11 a.m. at the Community Baptist Church at 160 North Broadway in Yonkers. 

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