SAMPSON W. KEEBLE (1832 - mid-1880s)
Sampson W. Keeble, barber, businessman, and politician, became
the first black Tennessean elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. Keeble
was born circa 1832 in Rutherford County, Tennessee, to slave parents,
Sampson W. and Nancy Keeble. From the age of nineteen until 1863, he served
as pressman for two weekly newspapers in Murfreesboro. Near the end of
the Civil War, Keeble moved to the bustling city of Nashville, where black
population had tripled during the Union army's occupation. By 1866, Keeble
had established the Rock City Barber Shop. He became an active leader as
a member of the advisory board of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company
Bank and treasurer of the board of directors of the Colored Agricultural
and Mechanical Association.
During the Reconstruction era, when all local blacks were Republicans and the Davidson County Republican party was dominated by Negroes, Keeble became involved in politics. In 1872, he won the Republican nomination for a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Helped by a heavy black vote for presidential candidate General U. S Grant and some local white voters who viewed Keeble as a moderate black man, Keeble was barely elected to the Thirty-eighth General Assembly in November of 1872. He carried the important, heavily black fourth ward by eighty-five fewer votes than cast for Republic President Grant's reelection. Keeble's term began on January 6, 1873.
House Speaker W. S. McGaughey swore Keeble into the legislature and appointed him to the House Military Affairs Committee and the Immigration Committee. Before his term ended in 1875, Keeble introduced three unsuccessful bills: To amend Nashville's charter to allow blacks to operate businesses in the downtown area, to protect Negro laborers an their wages, and to gain state funds for Tennessee Manual Labor University.
Keeble's third bill was a significant gesture in his political career. Located on Murfreesboro Road, Tennessee Manual Labor University was organized in December of 1866 by the leaders of the Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association. These leaders we artisans, craftsmen, and small businessmen, as well as Keeble's associates. indeed, the Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association was a political base for Keeble and other, because the Association held an annual fair every fall and attracted a faithful constituent among the freedmen. It brought national black Republican leaders to Nashville, including John Mercer Langston (1872) and Frederick Douglass (1873).
After service in the Tennessee General Assembly, Keeble was elected a magistrate in Davidson County and served from 1877 until 1882. His first election as magistrate was contested when Keeble's opponent, James W. Ready, lost by only nineteen votes. The county court ruled in Keeble's favor. Two other blacks also were elected county magistrates with Keeble. By the late 1870s, however, the state poll tax and white racial violence had significantly reduced black voting strength, and white Conservatives (Democrats) had effectively recaptured political power in Nashville and Davidson County. When Keeble sought to return to the General Assembly in 1878, he was defeated by a Greenback party candidate. Yet another black, Republican Thomas A. Sykes, won election from Davidson County to the Tennessee General Assembly during the presidential election of 1880, which was won by Republican James A. Garfield.
Keeble's date and place of death are undetermined, but it is likely that he passed during the mid-1880s, like so many others of his generation.
Linda T. Wynn