Saturday, March 28, 2015

Morris Keller, Sr. (1901-1994)


Morris Keller, Sr. & Catherine Morris, wife


This is my weekly entry for +Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors Challenge where I write about my family's history. 


This post is dedicated to my maternal great-grandfather Morris Keller, Sr.

Like my paternal great-grandfather, Leo Paul Dumas, Morris’ name was spelled differently depending on the linguistic leanings of the person with the pen. In some instances his name was spelled in French as “Maurice”. In the later years, after American influence, it was spelled in English as “Morris”.






My Keller clan originates in lower Vacherie, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana at the Golden Star Plantation. This plantation no longer exists but if you use your handy smartphone, you can plug in these coordinates to find the exact location:

Latitude: 

29.9293717 North 


Longitude: 
-90.6625893 West 


Most of Vacherie is in Saint James Parish. However, this plantation was just over the parish line. Golden Star was a large sugar plantation well-known its molasses.

Recently, our cousin Gufielle Keller, was interviewed by a local reporter from the Lutcher New Examiner. His story was published on the front page on 26 Feb 2015. The newspaper article detailed his experiences growing up on the plantation, as well as his life after. Before the publication of this article, I had not known the exact name of the plantation where my family labored though I knew our roots in Vacherie were deep.

So, I took to what I do best: interviewing my family members to suck them dry of all the knowledge about both the plantation and my great-grandfather.


Plantation Life



Golden Star Plantation was owned by the Leblanc-Webre family. The plantation was described as a village, which stood until at least the 1960s. Golden Star held African-Americans as enslaved laborers before the Civil War. 


By the early 1900s, Italian immigrants were sent to work on the plantation along with the freed African-Americans who remained. The black and white laborers got along well. The adults worked together. The children played together. Still, segregation ruled supreme. 

The homes of the Italian-American laborers were in the front of the plantation while the African-American laborers were in the back. Whites and blacks were not permitted to attend the same schools. Black children had to walk to their unequal school building with old hand-me-down books from the white school. The white children were given a bus to travel to school and were given the newest resources. 

Even the church was segregated. Though everyone could attend mass at the same time, whites sat on the left while people of color (blacks and Indians) sat on the right. This was the local custom until recent years. As a little girl, I remember trying to sit on the left side of the church. My mom quickly pulled me back across the aisle. I did not realize the reason why until later. 


Back to Morris

Morris Keller is the son of Jules Keller (1858-1952) and Pauline Pryor (1866-1950). He was born 8 Sep 1901 in Vacherie, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. He was baptized at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church on 21 Sep 1901. He is the last of eight children.



I only have one photo of my great-grandfather. As you can see, it is of poor quality. Morris was described as a tall man with a reddish-brown complexion. Historically, his complexion would have been classified as griffe. In Louisiana, it is a term used for people of Indian and African ancestry. Culturally, the family were Creole speakers and eaters. They were also firmly rooted in the local Catholic Church.

According to historical records, the Kellers have a long history on the Golden Star plantation. Not only did my great-grandfather, Morris, work on this plantation, but so did his father, brothers, and sons. 

Memories

My grandmother told me that even a couple of my uncles worked on the plantation in the 1960s. They worked for two weeks on their Thanksgiving break. The children would “scrap cane” during grinding (harvest) season. Their job was to pick up the loose pieces of cane after the cutter cut the sugar cane with a blade.  Scraping was easy enough work for children and they were eager to earn a few dollars. They were not permitted to stop schooling to work on the plantation, no matter what the pay. My grandparents would not let that happen. 

My mother remembers visiting the plantation as a child. The children would run around the porch of the “Big House”. The plantation was where our family labored. But it was more than that. It was where they made a life, loved and built a community. It was where they built a family.


Morris’ Family


just a few of Morris Keller Sr.'s descendants
The Keller Clan circa 2010
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church

Morris Keller met and married Catherine Morris (1908-1989), a native of Ascension Parish and the granddaughter of Louisiana State Representative Milton Morris

Together, Morris and his wife raised nine children, four boys and five girls. On 8 December 1994, after 93 long years of life Morris Keller, Sr. passed away. He left the life he built. He rests with his loved ones at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie, Louisiana. 



Photo Credit: Find A Grave


He leaves behind an extensive host of descendants and relatives, many of whom still call Vacherie home. See the photo above.

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