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Campus News, Newsletter

Honoring Dr. Rosa Freeman Keller: The Lighting of the Rosa Freeman Keller Avenue of the Oaks

On the evening of April 23, 2024, at 8 p.m., a special event took place to honor the remarkable legacy of Dr. Rosa Freeman Keller, a champion of civil rights for African Americans. The Lighting of the Rosa Freeman Keller Avenue of the Oaks at Dillard University paid tribute to Dr. Keller’s profound impact on the struggle for equality and justice. 

Dr. Eartha L. Johnson ’80, Rosa Freeman Keller & Charles Keller, Eminent Endowed Professor, leads this initiative with a deep personal connection. She recalls Dr. Keller’s presence at Dillard, her encouragement, and her belief in the potential of every student. Now, as the endowed professor bearing Dr. Keller’s name, Dr. Johnson is honored to continue her legacy. 

“Dr. Keller’s presence at Dillard was as inspiring as it was empowering, her belief in every student’s potential continues to guide us. I am determined to uphold her vision for a brighter future.”

Throughout her life, Dr. Keller dedicated herself to advancing the rights of African Americans and drawing attention to the challenges they faced in their communities. As a board member for various organizations, including the YMCA, the New Orleans Public Library, Dillard University, and Flint-Goodridge Hospital, Dr. Keller witnessed firsthand the mistreatment and discrimination endured by African Americans.

Dr. Keller’s support for Pearlie H. Elloie ’60, MSW, and Dr. Barbara Guillory Thompson ’57, Dillard alumnae, in their fight against Tulane University’s segregation policy, was a turning point in our university’s history. Her funding of their legal representation led to a landmark lawsuit that forced Tulane to integrate, a victory that still resonates with us today. 

In recognition of Dr. Keller’s legacy and unwavering commitment to social justice, Dillard University dedicated the Avenue of the Oaks to her on April 23, 1995. This iconic landmark symbolizes sanctuary and beauty on the campus, enveloping students in an atmosphere of peace and inspiration. The Avenue of the Oaks stands as a testament to the university’s mission to nurture the minds and spirits of African American students, providing a space for growth, reflection, and empowerment. The sacred space is utilized for the baccalaureate service and commencement exercise. It is a long-standing tradition that no one walks outside these ceremonies on the Avenue of the Oaks. It is a superstition that if students walk the Oaks before commencement, they will not graduate. 

As we gathered for the lighting of the Rosa Freeman Keller Avenue of the Oaks, we are reminded that Dr. Keller’s legacy is not a distant memory but a guiding light that continues to inspire and shape the journey of knowledge, justice, and positive change for our current and future students at Dillard University. 

Currently, her relative, Leith Hill, serves on the Dillard University Board of Trustees. Keller’s grandsons, Andrew B. Wisdom and Matthew Wisdom, previously served in positions on the Board.