Thursday, February 4, 2016

Black History Month: Marshall Keeble

If you are not a member or former member of the Churches of Christ, you've probably never heard of Marshall Keeble.

Come to think of it, if you're a member of the Churches of Christ, you may not have heard of Marshall Keeble.

You should, no matter whether you are or are not part of Churches of Christ.

Marshall Keeble was born near Murphreesboro, Tennessee, on December 7, 1878, the son of former slaves. When he died on April 20, 1968, it was estimated that he'd baptized an estimated 40,000 people.

He and his family moved to Nashville when Keeble was four.  He went to school until the 7th grade, and then went to work at a soap factory.

At 17, Keeble was baptized at the Gay Street Christian Church.  Two years later--after marrying Minnie Womack, a minister's daughter--he began to preach at the Jackson Street Church of Christ.  In 1914,  he decided to devote himself exclusively to preaching.  He traveled to brush-arbors, tents, barns, church buildings, and wherever else people would listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Not only did he go throughout the United States, he also made several trips to Nigeria.  Keeble's 1962 autobiography was abtly titled, From Mule Back to Super Jet with the Gospel.

Around 1920, A.B. Burton, friend, a fellow Church of Christ member, and founded of the Life and Casuality Insurance Company, started financing Keeble's work.  A website dedicated to the history of the Restoration Movement (which birthed the Churches of Christ), says that "The Bible and Burton gave Keeble the ability to make the world a better place."

Not only did Keeble preach, he also debated many from other religious groups.  He tackled the subjects of baptism, foot-washing, the Lord's Supper, miracles, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Sabbath, and probably many, many other subjects.  It's said that after Keeble's debate opponents faced Keeble, they all retired from the debating arena and never came back for a second try.

Keeble's marriage to Minnie Womack lasted until her death in 1932.  They had five children; sadly, all of them died before Keeble did.  Two children died in infancy, one was electrocuted at ten, a daughter died in 1935, and their last child died in 1964.  Keeble married again, to Laura Johnson, in 1934.

Keeble was criticized for being "too accomodating" to the white people that supported him.  He encouraged Christian blacks to "turn the other cheek", but didn't ask for similar Christian behavior from whites.  He did preach to mixed groups, and when doing so, would reserve "whites-only" seating.  There were whites who embraced Keeble because he came across as "knowing his place" in society and in the church.

On the other hand, Keeble did address discrimination when he trained ministers at the Nashville Christian Institute.  And he mentored two people who became leaders in the American Civil Rights movement:  Fred Gray, who later defended Rosa Parks; and Floyd Rose, a minister who also advocated for civil rights.

When he died, over 3,000 people, both black and white, attended his funeral.

In 2000, the Christian Chronicle, a newspaper covering issues in Churches of Christ, named Marshall Keeble their "Person of the Decade" for the years 1940-1940.

There are transcripts and recordings still available of Keeble's sermons.  Those who go looking for them will find a picture of a passionate man of God who devoted his life to telling others about the Jesus he loved.

Sources used:

"Marshall Keeble, 1878-1968," Restoration History
"Marshall Keeble," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

1 comment:

  1. Marshall was a great man. I was young when I heard him preach and don't remember a thing, but I read about him when I got older. He really got through the idea of being baptized with a change of heart works every time and being baptized because it was expected of you and you just took a bath.
    How Christ will uphold your repented baptism , even if you don't. You can always repent along the way, because that is what you should do. Don't ever doubt that if you do something wrong, He is upholding your first love, and just begging you to come home, like a faithful Father should.