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.  Borrowed from


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