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Church leaders, members honor ‘Sister Keeble’ at Tennessee funeral service


NASHVILLE, TENN. — “Although quiet, soft-spoken and unassuming, she was the ‘power behind the throne’ of the late, great, inimitable Marshall Keeble,” Evans wrote in a tribute printed in the funeral program.
David Jones, minister of the Schrader Lane church in Nashville, said he learned an important lesson about the importance of committed relationships from Laura Keeble’s long life. Jones said Keeble fully understood the challenging implications of her decision to marry a widely known church leader.
“She understood that she would be in the shadow most of the time,” Jones said. “She didn’t try to make him serve beyond his capacity. She didn’t try to do anything beyond helping him, as the Bible says … ‘be a helper fit for him.’ He married the right woman.”
In autobiographical remarks in the funeral program, Keeble recalled her wedding on April 3, 1934.
“Momma had fixed a big meal, and I was really dressed in a new suit, new shoes, stocking, gloves and of course my hat,” Keeble wrote.
Her husband-to-be arrived late because he couldn’t drive his new car, which still needed breaking in, more than 30 miles per hour from Nashville to Corinth, Miss., where the couple married.
After the Wednesday wedding ceremony, the newlyweds made it back to Nashville in time for a prayer meeting at the Jackson Street church. They spent their honeymoon in California, where her preacher-spouse held a three-week gospel meeting.
Born on Aug. 6, 1898, Keeble was the seventh of 10 children. In her printed remarks she said she became a “nursemaid” at age 12. Her mother, she wrote, was a midwife.
“It seems like caring for others was a part of me. Because there were so many people in my family, growing up I never knew what it was like to eat a whole apple by myself until I was grown and gone from home,” Keeble wrote.
Jones and others referred to Keeble’s dedicated service to the Nashville Christian Institute, a school founded in 1940 that trained hundreds of black church leaders before closing in 1967. Besides serving as the institute’s bookkeeper and assisting her husband, who was president, Keeble served as substitute “momma” to the young people who studied at NCI, an elementary and high school.
Robert Woods, a minister from Villa Rica, Ga., recalled his institute days. Woods was 11 years old when he entered the school. His studies paid for by a wealthy African-American sponsor, Woods was upset to learn that, like other NCI students, he would have to share work responsibilities at the school.
“Sister Keeble came to me,” Woods said. “Little Woods, don’t cry,” she told him. “I’m going to be your mother.”
Fred Gray, an elder at the Tuskegee, Ala., church and a one-time attorney for Martin Luther King Jr., credited the nurturing environment at NCI with giving him the values that later undergirded his participation in the civil rights struggle. Gray met Keeble soon after he enrolled at NCI in 1943.
“Laura Johnson Keeble was a woman who stood in the gap and built a bridge, between seniors and young people, between the saved and the unsaved,” Gray said. “And while doing it, she encouraged all of them to become Christians.”
Twenty years his junior, Laura Johnson married Marshall Keeble after his first wife, Minnie, died. Serving by her husband’s side, she endured the bitterest moments of racial segregation in the nation and the church. Just a year before his death in 1968, the NCI board voted to close the school. With many black Christians having supported the school for decades, a divisive legal battle ensued.
Despite the difficult times, Keeble never chose to respond to mistreatment in kind, said Jackson Street minister Michael Crowder.
“Sister Keeble lived long enough to see great changes in our world,” Crowder said. “When she could have chosen to hate or to do evil, she chose to love and forgive those who may have meant her husband harm.”
Summarizing her life of service, Evans accorded Keeble an honored place among the heroines of the faith.
“Sister Keeble joins the ranks of numerous faithful women of the Bible,” Evans said. “Good night, sweet princess, our Phoebe. We will see you in the morning.”

  • Feedback
    Would like to see a photo of brother Keeble
    Mildred Hall
    Schrader Lane COC
    Nashville, Tennessee
    USA
    June, 2 2012

Filed under: Obituaries Staff Reports

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