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New Orleans says goodbye to a Buffalo soldier

25th July 2011   ·   1 Comment

By Valentine Pierce
Contributing Writer

Three years ago when I talked with Lawrence F. Keller, “a living, breathing encyclopedia,” the knowledge he held flowed like water from an open vessel. On Sunday, July 17, Keller moved on to another realm, three days before his 88th birthday and a little over a week from the third commemoration of Buffalo Soldiers Day in New Orleans (July 28) — a commemoration he was instrumental in making happen.

Keller was the former vice president of the 9th Calvary and 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers of Louisi­ana, a multi-cultural organization intent on documenting the history of these soldiers and raising awareness about them; Keller helped found the organization along with John Anderson, its president.

Lawrence F. Keller

“John and I are working together to try our utmost during our little lifespan; we have to get the truth,” Keller said during that earlier interview. “We as Black people know a lot of our history has been put on the shelf. This is why John and I want to make presentations — to open up the eyes,” Keller added. “… we decided we were going to be a multi-cultural outfit … they can tell the story but they can tell the story of the truth.”

Unfortunately, a lot of the history Keller had collected over the years—papers, books—which were housed at St. James A.M.E. Church, were lost as a result of the 2005 federal flood because after the disaster he didn’t have access.

“A lot of my stuff got thrown away. I had a lot of books. I like to go back and read certain things about what has happened and set them with today,” he said. It was in July 64 years ago, Keller recalled with great clarity, “that General George S. Patton started really getting into the rhythm to defeat the Germans.

“What we are trying to do is keep this legend alive,” Keller had continued, “because there are a lot of times that our counterparts want to make it appear that we were never involved. I mean, you go way back to Molly Pitcher when she was in the Battle of the Revolution. There are a lot of things that we as a people had done, but we have to keep researching and researching to get the information.”

Researching, reading, retelling—these were the hallmarks the WWII veteran bore with pride.

“He was a living database,” Anderson told The Louisiana Weekly. “Mr. Keller thought that the history of the Buffalo Soldiers as well as African-American soldiers needed to be told. It needs to be told that we love America, too, and that we fought for America. We, as Americans, need to know that our true history — such as during the Civil War — African Americans fought on both sides. The Native Americans, the Chero­kee fought on both sides — for the North and for the South. This is something that is not in the history books and Mr. Keller thought that is was important because it’s America’s history — not just Black history — and that it should be part of the curriculum. That’s one of the things he fought for all his life.”

Anderson, who had known Keller for about 30 years, said, “My relationship with Mr. Keller got close when we were in (another) Buffalo Soldier organization. Mr. Keller would talk about things that happened during his service. Mr. Keller would say, ‘Before we can go forward to the future, we have to go back to where all of this started.’ Mr. Keller went as far back as the Civil War and past that to the Revolutionary War. He would say, ‘We have to go back to where the country started,’ and that’s what we did. He would tell me things that he read and some were over my head. I didn’t know because I didn’t read it. He would read a lot. Mr. Keller could go through a book in one night and he had a darn good memory. He was like a father. He was always guiding me — he would say, ‘John this is what we are going to do.’ He was a guide for the organization. He was an anchor. Mr. Keller used to say, ‘We can’t have an organization without
God.’ Mr. Keller was vice president and chaplain. He said, ‘We start with a prayer and end with a prayer,’ and that’s what we did.”

As for the proclamation of Buffalo Soldiers Day: “We went to the City Council (July 24, 2008). At that time the council people were having a meeting and we didn’t even have an appointment. We just asked if we could speak. We explained that the history of the Buffalo Soldiers started here in New Orleans and we asked the city if they could set aside a day to honor … and before I could get the rest of the statement out the City Council was saying done deal. Ms. (Jackie) Clarkson said it; Ms. (Cynthia Hedge-) Morrell echoed it and then the rest of the City Council echoed it. The vote was unanimous.

Anderson concluded, “I think he would like people to know he lived his life trying to be an honorable man, a man of God, a good father — his children cherished him — and he would like to be known as a man that tried to help others. He was a genuine man. And if he couldn’t help, he would point you in the direction where you could get that help. He loved his country.”

Keller was the son of the late Willard and Carrie Keller; husband of the late Iona M. Keller; father of Lawrence Jr., Richard, Iona Keller-Rayfield and the late Clarence Keller; brother of the Rev. Richard Keller, George Keller, Gwendolyn Keller-Connors and the late Clifford, Audrey, Leona and Willard. He was also the father-in-law of Deacon Rudy, Bobbie, Clarissa and Donica. He is also survived by a host of grandchildren, great grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

This article was originally published in the July 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Deandre says:

    Not bad at all fellas and glaals. Thanks.

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