Council votes to rename Jackie Robinson St. for Normel Keller

Published 2:33 pm Friday, September 4, 2020

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After hearing from several citizens on both sides of the issue, the Bogalusa City Council voted Tuesday to rename Jackie Robinson Street after Deacon Normel Keller Sr., who passed away on June 27.

The vote was a 6-1 result. Bogalusa City Council member Kenny Kellis voted against it, while those who voted in favor were president Mark Irvine, vice president Danielle Keys and council members Penny Douglas, Teddy Drummond, Oneita Graham and Gloria Kates. According to the ordinance, the street will be officially changed to “Normel Keller Street.”

Discussion of the issue took up the majority of the meeting’s two-hour time Tuesday night.

Kates introduced the issue as an ordinance to change the name of Jackie Robinson Street to Normel Keller Street. It had previously been introduced at the council’s previous meeting, meaning that Tuesday was its second reading and it was therefore up for vote.

Initially, Drummond requested for the ordinance to be tabled, to allow the attorney general’s office to rule on whether it was being handled correctly due to the language in the ordinance. He said that the city charter requires for a person to have been deceased for at least five years, before a street can be named after a person.

However, Kates said that the ordinance took care of that problem, because it contains language to amend that portion of the charter to allow an exemption.

After hearing Kates’ argument, as well as hearing from several members of the public who were in favor of the street name change, Drummond said he wanted to withdraw his motion to table. Upon this announcement, many members of the audience applauded.

Later in the meeting, the council voted to remove Drummond’s motion to table the ordinance, with that vote finishing 6-1 — with Kellis as the lone “nay” vote.

Prior to the actual vote on the renaming, citizens spoke out on both sides of the issue.

Those who spoke in favor of the street’s renaming said that Keller was deserving. They noted he was a veteran, an athletic standout, a strong educator and a church-going gentleman.

According to the ordinance’s language, Keller served during the Korean War, and received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star, and the U.N. Service Medal. In total, he earned 27 decorations, medals, badges, commendations, citations and campaign ribbons.

In 1953, Keller began his teaching career at Arcadia High School. He began teaching at Central Memorial High School in 1956, and then Bogalusa High School in 1969. He retired from teaching in 1992, and spent his career as an educator in a variety of roles, including guidance counselor, teacher, assistant principal and coach.

Keller served his church, Sweet Beulah Baptist Church, for more than 81 years. During that time, he served as Sunday School Superintendent, Brotherhood President, Finance Director, and Deacon Board President. He began his Christian service at the age of 9 years old, serving as Sunday School secretary and teacher.

Several citizens spoke out against the renaming, as well. They pointed out that the street has been named Jackie Robinson Street for years, and it provides a lot of pride to those who look out and see the sign, and are reminded of the great civil rights event when Robinson became the first black player in major league baseball.

They also noted that the neighborhood, which was colloquially called “the Ponderosa,” contains several other streets named for black athletic heroes — Joe Louis, Willie Mays and Charles Spikes.

A few noted that the Kellers were late arrivals to the neighborhood, and some of the citizens who spoke Tuesday had families who’d lived in the neighborhood for years before the Kellers moved in.

Kates said that she understood the citizens’ concerns, and noted that she sees Robinson as a hero as well.

“Little girls play baseball too,” she said, earning chuckles from some in the audience.

However, Kates said that the renaming was a special request from Keller’s widow, Theresa Keller, who had asked Kates personally to see if it could be done. Kates also noted that a petition was taken, and the majority of the street’s residents approved of the name change.

After the successful motion to take the ordinance off the table, the council’s vote on the ordinance itself passed by a count of 6-1.

In other business, the council:

  • Unanimously adopted a resolution to authorize the mayor to execute a grant agreement with the Federal Aviation and Louisiana Department of Transportation.
  • Unanimously adopted an ordinance amending Ordinance No. 2048 to provide for the authorized purposes of the unexpended and future revenues of a 1/4-percent sales and use tax, in accordance with a rededication election held by the City of Bogalusa on July 11, 2020.
  • Heard from members of the public during public participation. Issues discussed included cleanliness of the city and whether the council correctly adheres to Robert’s Rules of Order when conducting its meetings.

The Bogalusa City Council’s next meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 5 p.m. at Bogalusa City Hall, located at 202 Arkansas Ave. in Bogalusa.