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Rosa F. Keller (NC '32)

By Beth Chauvin

Mar 05, 2021

Rosa Freeman Keller spent her life fighting for equal rights for all New Orleans citizens, including the desegregation of the New Orleans public transportation system, school system, and libraries.

Born to a Louisiana Coca-Cola magnate in 1911, Rosa Freeman Keller made her social debut in the early 1930s. A product of enormous wealth, Keller utilized her position of power to fight social injustices on numerous fronts. 

First faced with social inequity and discrimination when she married her Jewish husband, Charles Keller, Rosa Keller first encountered the social injustices unique to African Americans when she assumed her mother’s position on the board of the YWCA. Strongly influenced by African American women she met in this new role, Rosa Keller joined the board of directors of the local chapter of the Urban League.

From her position of great social and economic power, Keller championed the causes of the Civil Rights Movement – against the will of most of New Orleans’ white elite.

To name just a few of her causes, Rosa and her husband Charles invested in the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood to address housing shortages for African Americans in New Orleans and to also to demonstrate to whites of her social and economic class that middle-class African Americans presented no adverse financial risk to lenders. Rosa Keller also paid for the legal representation of the students seeking to integrate Tulane University. 

In addition, Keller was an active and influential member of the board of directors for the New Orleans Public Library, Dillard University, and Flint-Goodridge Hospital, and she served as president of the local chapter of the Urban League. 

Keller also dedicated herself to the cause of geriatric studies and invested time and money into providing educational services and resources to New Orleans’ elderly citizens. The Rosa Keller Campus – which provides tuition-free classes to senior citizens at various New Orleans colleges and universities – and the Rosa Keller Branch of the New Orleans Public Library are but a few of the lasting tributes to Keller’s activism and philanthropy.