Hillsborough social worker and revolutionary pastor Jimmie B. Keel dies
Jimmie B. Keel, who served as Hillsborough County’s first black social worker and became deputy county administrator, has died.
The news was announced at Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church in Clearwater, where Keel had pastored, during an Easter service. Further details of the death were not immediately available.
Keel retired in 2001. The Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library at 2902 W Bearss Ave. is named after him. Keel noted the significance of the county’s choice to name one of its libraries after a black person at the time of the grand opening. Due to segregation, Keel had not been allowed to use libraries when growing up in Jackson County – a point of deep pain and frustration for the avid reader.
“I read advertisements and nutrition stickers on canned food and comic books — anything I could read,” he told a reporter around the time the library opened.
Keel graduated summa cum laude from Bethune-Cookman University and served in the military for three years before coming to Tampa. His county career began in 1965, a year after the Civil Rights Act was passed.
As part of his work at the county, he oversaw library services. Keel placed a high value on knowledge and wanted to make sure everyone had access to his power.
In 1988, he and three other county employees established the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor the civil rights leader and help local students pursue higher education. According to the scholarship website, over $600,000 has been awarded to students over the years.
He was the county’s highest-ranking black employee when he became deputy county administrator in 1991. A few years earlier, the county had been criticized in a report for not putting more people of color in roles. of management.
In a report on Keel’s retirement, former county administrator Fred Karl praised Keel for his professionalism and empathy. His compassion, he said, extended particularly to those in need of government services, such as the elderly and those experiencing poverty.
Keel said in previous remarks to a reporter that he knew first-hand the difference in opportunity and that motivated his work. Growing up in a small community in the Panhandle, he had seen a new black high school built with barely enough.
“The chemistry lab had a Bunsen burner,” he said. “For a whole school.”
Keel was also a longtime pastor at Mount Olive AME, beginning in 1979. His goal for parishioners, he said, was to make the church and the Bible “relevant to the times we live in.” .
Read inspiring stories about ordinary lives
Subscribe to our free How They Lived newsletter
You’ll have a memory of the Tampa Bay residents we’ve lost, including heartwarming and fun details about their lives, every Tuesday.
You are all registered!
Want more of our free weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s start.
Explore all your options
“We need to bring things to people that will bring peace, understanding, consideration and kindness,” he said.