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Biographical Sketch On The Life Of Marshall Keeble
Biographical Sketch On The Life Of Marshall Keeble
Marshall Keeble was born near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, December 7, 1878. He was the son of former slaves, Robert and Mittie Keeble. At the age of four, his family moved to Nashville. He was baptized by Preston Taylor in the Gay Street Christian Church in 1895. Keeble was seventeen years old. He was never educated beyond the seventh grade. His first job was working in a bucket factory six to ten hours a day at around 40¢ per hour.
He married his first wife, Minnie Womack, the daughter of S.W. Womack in 1896. She was a graduate of Fisk University High School. After their marriage, Marshall worked for a time in a soap factory. Later he purchased a grocery store. He also purchased a huckster's wagon. Minnie ran the store while Marshall sold the produce on a route around the streets of northern Nashville. Later a second store was purchased.
Keeble's life's work, however, was that of a gospel preacher. He began preaching in Nashville, Tennessee in 1897, preaching at the Jackson Street Church of Christ. Though preaching in many places, he did not involve himself in located work. In 1914 he decided to give up all his business interests and preach the gospel only. He dedicated himself to evangelistic work holding gospel meetings in brush-arbors, tents, barns and church buildings. He established over 200 congregations over the next sixty years of preaching. Sometimes he would baptize over 100 people in a single gospel meeting. In the 1930s he wrote to the Gospel Advocate stating that he had baptized over 15,000 people. Estimates range between 20,000 and 40,000 people as being baptized by this great gospel preacher in his life time. He was an evangelist that was most influential among both African American and Caucasian people. His preaching took him from Florida to Washington, and from California to the northeast. He made numerous trips to Nigeria where he had great success in evangelistic efforts. In later years, he often opened or closed college lectureships all over the country. Read one of his transcribed lectures here.
Much can be said about the effect that Keeble had in his preaching and teaching. However he would have been the first to admit that much of his success was due to the empowerment he received both through the gospel and his life-long friendship with A.M. Burton. Burton, a fellow Christian, and owner of The Life And Casualty Company Of Nashville, financed the work of Keeble from the early 1920s, and helped him in both his travels and his work for the rest of his life. The Bible and Burton gave Keeble the ability to make the world a better place.
Marshall and Minnie were married for thirty-six years until her untimely death on December 11, 1932. They had five children, two of which died in infancy. One of their sons, Clarence, died at the age of ten when he was electrocuted by touching a high voltage wire on a utility pole in their front yard. Another daughter died in 1935, and their final son, Robert died in 1964, making his first wife and all his children precede him in death.
After the death of his wife, he met a young woman from Corinth, Mississippi by the name of Laura Catherine Johnson. They were married on April 3, 1934. B.C. Goodpasture, long-time friend and gospel preacher, was involved in a gospel meeting in Florence, Alabama at the time, and came over to Corinth, to perform the ceremony. When Goodpasture arrived in Corinth, Keeble was not present. He did not show up for another hour. When he arrived, the first thing B.C. said to him was, "She's backed out!" To this Keeble responded, "No, sir, she hasn't backed out!" They were married in her family home on Foote Street. It was said that Keeble almost broke up his own wedding with his "Amens!" Laura and Marshall never had children, but she was mother to the children he had by his first wife, Minnie.
In 1942 he became the first president of the Nashville Christian Institute. The Institute opened its doors in 1940 as a night school for adults. When Keeble became president, it began offering day classes to young people, ultimately developing into a K - 12th grade school. He served as president until 1958.
He held many debates in his lifetime. His first debate was with his father, Robert, who had attached himself to a religious group called "Do-Rights." The debate was over foot-washing and The Lord's Supper (The "Do-Rights" used water in the place of grape juice.) Later Marshall was in a four-night debate with a holiness preacher in Birmingham, Alabama, May, 1922 on water baptism, foot washing, and the Holy Spirit. Still later he debated a Holiness preacher in Paducah, Kentucky in 1924 on the necessity of baptism, foot-washing, and water in the Lord's Supper. In 1927 he debated again on foot-washing, the Holy Spirit and baptism. On January 24-26, 1928 in Jackson, Tennessee he debated a Holiness preacher by the name of G.T. Haywood on the subjects of water baptism, the Holy Spirit, and miracles. In 1930 he debated on the Church and the Sabbath. He debated an Adventist in Denver, Colorado in 1932 and held another debate in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1932. In 1934 he debated a Holiness preacher in Florida and a Baptist in Lawton, Oklahoma. He held a debate with a Baptist in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1938. Marshall was highly successful in the field of debate. It was said that all his opponents, after facing Keeble, retired from the debating arena. None of them ever came back for a second try.
Keeble wrote numerous articles for journals including: Gospel Advocate, Firm Foundation; Christian Echo and others. A book was edited and produced by B.C. Goodpasture and the Gospel Advocate in 1931 called, Biography and Sermons Of Marshall Keeble. He wrote his autobiography, History of My Life (or) Mule Back To Super Jet With The Gospel, printed by the Gospel Advocate in 1962. In 1968 a biography was released by J.E. Choate, Gospel Advocate Co., covering the life of this great preacher.
Death came to this great man of God April 20, 1968. B.C. Goodpasture preached his funeral, where over 3000 people were in attendance. His body was laid to rest in the Greenwood Cemetery on Elm Hill Pike.
In his lifetime he worked to overcome many obstacles for African Americans, both in education and preaching the gospel he loved. He broke many of the cultural barriers that separated black and white people. In 2000 the Christian Chronicle named Marshall Keeble the most influential preacher among churches of Christ in the decade of the 1940s. Perhaps it could be said that Marshall Keeble was the most influential preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the 20th century.
The Marshall Keeble I Knew
Seldom does one have the privilege of contacting so intimately one so internationally known. My affiliation with "Pop" (Keeble) began in 1919 in Tuscumbia, Alabama soon after I was discharged from the armed forces of World War I, and was married. Because of this friendship, after the loss of "Pop's" first wife, he asked me to help him find a companion. I could think of no one other than a quiet, serene sister of my own good wife. So we had the good fortune, as we have so often admitted one to another, of marrying two devoted sisters whose inspiration and loyalty gave him freedom to pursue his evangelism and gave me the honor of observing and appreciating this.
Every year thereafter I made it a point to spend at least one week or more with him in a meeting, from Ohio to New Mexico, including Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Florida, and Georgia.
"Pop" was a quiet, meditative man who upon occasion could enter into the joviality of a chosen group. He also would correct and advise and plead for the necessity of one's commitment to Christ. Reminiscence brings to mind an experience I had with him in Atlanta, Georgia. Brother Keeble preached there two weeks and had only one woman to respond to his plea. But he was not ready to quit. One hundred sixty-six souls put on Christ in the third week of this meeting. These converts continued to grow until they have become one of the largest churches in the brotherhood.
During a meeting in Florence, Alabama, an objector rushed forward and fired a shot which Brother Keeble ignored in the "Father-forgive-them" attitude, and continued to preach while showing a compassion for the weakness of this man, by standing between him and arrest. Nothing further disturbed the meeting. Still, on another occasion in Alabama a sinner with brass knucks struck Brother Keeble on the face only to have him turn the other cheek to the chagrin of the offender who was quietly taken away while the meeting continued.
I would not leave out the experiences with him at the Nashville Christian Institute, where he planted seeds of love, thrift, loyalty, benevolence, honesty and perseverence which have taken roots in the lives of such men as attorney Fred Gray, Obie Elie, Dr. Thomas A. Jackson, Vanderbilt Lewis, and Robert Wood.
Brother Keeble was never disturbed. In the presence of man's anger he grew calm; in confusion, he registered peace. All these things I say of him without any exaggeration or sense of worship. His personal habits were simple, orderly, and meticulous, without being fastidious. So, no one was ever ill-atease in his presence. No one's shortcomings were food for his conversations; but he was a faithful counselor of people in their needs, using the Bible as his reference, or authority.
We may continue to live under the sound of his voice in quiet communion with his books: Biography and Sermons of Marshall Keeble, by B. C. Goodpasture, From Mule Back to Super Jet with the Gospel, by Mrs. Lambert Campbell, and Roll Jordan Roll, by J. E. Choate.
-Percy E. Ricks, Gospel Advocate, July 18,1968, page 462
The Death of Sister Keeble - 1933
On December 11, 1932, at 3:30 A.M., Sister Keeble, the faithful wife of our Brother M. Keeble, fell asleep in Jesus. She is survived by her husband, one son, one daughter, two granddaughters, and her mother. She lived to see her fifty-third birthday, and had been in the church for forty years.
The funeral service was conducted by the writer in Brother Keeble's home on Jefferson Street, Nashville, Tenn., in the presence of a large crowd of friends and loved ones, assisted by Brother O. L. Aker, of Florence, Ala., the minister of the colored church of Christ there.
Sister Keeble did not live out her threescore and ten years, but her life was a glorious success, and she accomplished more than thousands of those who live to be eighty years old. I am not misstating facts when I say this good woman gave to us Brother M. Keeble, her faithful husband, as one of the greatest preachers of our day. I think he would say that she had much to do in making his work as a minister a phenomenal success. She took a great interest in all young preachers. Brother Aker has the following to say about her in this respect:
"She was such a good adviser of young preachers. I can never forget how she encouraged me the last time I talked with her. It was in July, 1932, while I was in a meeting at the Jackson Street church of Christ."
Brother Keeble, learning of her serious condition, left his work while in the Middle West in a revival and rushed home, and was at her bedside the last two weeks that she lived. Noone was more interested in Brother Keeble's work than his faithful wife, and no one has ever appreciated a wife more than Brother Keeble appreciated this good woman. Sister Keeble was a university graduate, loved God and his word, and she meant so much to her faithful husband.
The Gospel Advocate wants Brother Keeble to know he has our love and sympathy. He will go on with his great work without letting up in the slightest degree in his efforts to extend the kingdom among his people. Sister Keeble will continue to live in him by his trying to do just twice the amount of work he has formerly done.
To a child of God death is glorious. It is precious in the sight 'of God. (Ps. 116: 15.) It simply means to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5: 6-8.) It is departing and being with Christ, which is very far better. (Phil. 1: 23.) This is what the Bible says. Paul says he does not want us to be ignorant concerning those of our loved ones who are asleep in Jesus. (1 Thess. 4: 13-18.) Note the words of William Croswell Doane on "Death and Life":
"We are so stupid about death. We will not learn
"We are so selfish about death. We count our grief
-S. H. Hall, Gospel Advocate, May 4, 1933, p.429.
Death Of Sister Keeble - March 5, 2007
Chronology Of The Life Of Marshall Keeble
Sample Advertisement Of One Keeble Meeting
Location of Grave
Marshall and Laura Keeble are buried in the Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee, located at 1428 Elm Hill Pike. It is an African-American cemetery. It is located just down the road from the Gospel Advocate Bookstore. If heading west on I-40, take Exit 213, Spence Lane and turn right. Turn left on Elm Hill Pike, and enter the cemetery on your right. When entering the cemetery immediately pull over to the right hand side. The section to the right is the Garden of Hope. Walking into the section from the entrance you will see 9 rows of graves. Keeble is in the fifth (middle) row about midway from the entrance of the cemetery and the far end, in Lot 77 - B1.
Note: Keeble's first wife, Minnie Lee, died in December, 1932. She is also buried in the same cemetery, but in a different location than that of Marshall and Laura. Her Plot info is as follows: Burial Date - Dec. 13, 1932; Section 5, Lot 172 N 1/2; Space/Grave 667. Some kindness needs to be shown by someone willing to place a marker in the cemetery for Minnie, and some of the Keeble children who are buried next to her.