|It has been seventy one years and what is known to us as the Rhythm Night Club Fire (The Natchez Burning), is still having a meaningful effect on the Natchez community as well as the Nation. This tragedy took the lives of over two hundred souls from the Black community of Natchez and impacted the lives of all Natchez residents as well as the music world of the nation. An event of social entertainment , transformed into an event of horror and grieve in a matter of minutes. A city , a nation, left in shock in the swiftness of this disaster that has taken so many away in the prime of their lives.
April 23, 1940 is not a day of celebration but a day of mourning for the families, friends, employers , of those who lost their lives. The remembering of People , members of our community who simply went out for entertainment and some never returned. The indirect gift that they have given us through the changing of fire codes to prevent this type tragedy from happening again. A time of remembering that tragedy is not dictated by us and the time and place is not foretold in advance.
To get the full story I would advise all that visit Natchez to take the time and visit the Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum # 5 ST. Catherine Street Natchez Ms. Located at the actual site of the club and offers a very detailed account of this tragedy.
In order to understand the the political climate of today , I had to take a hard look at what it must have been for the first encounters of Afro-Americans entering the political arena after freedom , and the Civil War. Being from Natchez Mississippi , the oldest city on the Mississippi River , and the City of Residence of the First Black Senator to be elected into the congress of the United States. My journey begins with Hiram Rhoades Revels.
To get an overall overview of Revel’s life I went to www.history.house.gov to give me a clearer picture of the Man.
A freeman his entire life, Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress. With his moderate political orientation and oratorical skills honed from years as a preacher, Revels filled a vacant seat in the United States Senate in 1870. Just before the Senate agreed to admit a black man to its ranks on February 25, Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts sized up the importance of the moment: “All men are created equal, says the great Declaration,” Sumner roared, “and now a great act attests this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality…. The Declaration was only half established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind. In assuring the equal rights of all we complete the work.”
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Revels helped recruit two black regiments from Maryland. In 1862, when black soldiers were permitted to fight, he served as the chaplain for a black regiment in campaigns in Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. In 1863, Revels returned to St. Louis, where he established a freedmen’s school. At the end of hostilities, Revels served in a church in Leavenworth, Kansas. While traveling in Kansas, Revels and his family were asked to sit in the smoking car rather than the car for first–class ticket holders. Revels protested that the language in the smoking car was too coarse for his wife and children, and the conductor finally relented. Revels served in churches in Louisville, Kentucky, and New Orleans, Louisiana, before settling in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1866.
Before the Civil War, fewer than 1,000 free black Mississippians had access to a basic education. Thus, leadership from freedmen such as Revels became vital to the Republican Party for rallying the new electorate in the postwar years.7 It was through his work in education that Revels became involved in politics, taking his first elected position as a Natchez alderman in 1868. He entered politics reluctantly, fearing racial friction and interference with his religious work, but he quickly won over blacks and whites with his moderate and compassionate political opinions. In 1869, encouraged to run by a friend, future Representative John Roy Lynch, Revels won a seat in the Mississippi state senate.8 Under the newly installed Reconstruction government, Revels was one of more than 30 African Americans among the state’s 140 legislators.9 Upon his election, he wrote a friend in Leavenworth, Kansas: “We are in the midst of an exciting canvass…. I am working very hard in politics as well as in other matters. We are determined that Mississippi shall be settled on a basis of justice and political and legal equality.”10 A little–known politician, Revels attracted the attention of fellow legislators when he gave a moving prayer on the opening day of the session.
Revels arrived in Washington at the end of January 1870, but could not present his credentials until Mississippi was readmitted to the United States on February 23. Senate Republicans sought to swear in Revels immediately afterwards, but Senate Democrats were determined to block the effort. Led by Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky and Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware, the Democrats claimed Revels’s election was null and void, arguing that Mississippi was under military rule and lacked a civil government to confirm his election. Others claimed Revels was not a U.S. citizen until the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 and was therefore ineligible to become a U.S. Senator. Senate Republicans rallied to his defense. Though Revels would not fill Davis’s seat, the symbolism of a black man’s admission to the Senate after the departure of the former President of the Confederacy was not lost on Radical Republicans. Nevada Senator James Nye underlined the significance of this event: “[Jefferson Davis] went out to establish a government whose cornerstone should be the oppression and perpetual enslavement of a race because their skin differed in color from his,” Nye declared. “Sir, what a magnificent spectacle of retributive justice is witnessed here today! In the place of that proud, defiant man, who marched out to trample under foot the Constitution and the laws of the country he had sworn to support, comes back one of that humble race whom he would have enslaved forever to take and occupy his seat upon this floor.”14 On the afternoon of February 25, the Senate voted 48 to 8 to seat Revels, who subsequently received assignments to the Committee on Education and Labor and the Committee on the District of Columbia.
The stage was being set for how African Americans will fair in politics from this point on . As for as the start of African American participation in politics , their rights would be granted by the constitution but as we dig deeper their faith will be governed by the states in which they live.
Robert Wood is believed to be one of the first African American mayors in the United States. He served as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in the early 1870s. Wood was born in 1844 to Susie Harris, an African American housekeeper, and Dr. Robert Wood, a white doctor from Virginia. His parents never married, but lived side by side. According to oral histories, Wood was never a slave and lived mostly with his father, a former mayor of Natchez himself.
Mississippi Governor James L. Alcorn appointed Robert Wood as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in 1869. He later was elected mayor in 1870. His election was part of the “Black and Tan Revolution,” a short-lived political shift in Mississippi in which citizens of Mississippi elected many African Americans to state offices between 1868 and 1875. At its peak in 1873, half of Mississippi’s state elected officials were black.
As mayor, Wood built Natchez’s first school for African Americans in 1871. Wood also worked closely with John R. Lynch, the Congressman representing the area during the Reconstruction era. Both Wood and Lynch worked as printers at a Natchez printing company prior to their political careers.
After his term as mayor of Natchez, Wood served as postmaster and tax collector for the city. In 1875 Wood was elected Sheriff of Adams County, Mississippi.
After his political work, Wood operated a store in Washington, Mississippi, a town three hours north of Natchez. He lost much of his property during a fire in Washington. Wood married Susan Collins and had two children, both daughters named Selma and Stella, both of whom were baptized at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Natchez, Mississippi.
The date of Robert Wood’s death is unknown.
The political first of Black citizens of Natchez are not often spoken of but and hardly ever written about. We at NAPAC MUSEUM hope to keep on enlightening you on the challenges that faces us and the battles we have won.
In further research of the Devil’s Punch Bowl Natchez I checked the health records of the area for the time period of 1860-1865. These records did not reveal mass deaths from disease or any type of epidemic in the area. “Remember the first article ” thousands died from disease and starvation. This revelation of State records bring about more questions and led me to the following article.
Forks of the Road Slave Market site, Natchez
, Natchez – (1833) The Y-intersection of Washington Road/Natchez Trace (today’s D’Evereaux Drive), Old Courthouse Road (Liberty Road), and St. Catherine Street housed Natchez’s slave market after an 1833 city ordinance prohibiting the sale of slaves within Natchez’s city limits. The markets were moved to the eastern corporation line, to what became infamous as the Forks of the Road. The slave market was never architecturally imposing, described by Joseph Holt Ingraham in 1834 as “a cluster of rough wooden buildings, in the angle of two roads,” with “a wide gate” leading into a narrow courtyard, “partially enclosed by low buildings.” The Forks of the Road was a slave market but slave auctions were not conducted on the site as the area acted much more like a slave store than an auction house. The slave market operated until shut down by Union troops and apparently demolished in 1863. The site was used as a contraband camp for able-bodied freed slaves and a Negro regiment during the remainder of the Civil War.Bishop Elder’s diary records visits to both the camp at the Forks and at Magnolia Vale. After a while, he no longer visits the Forks, indicating that it is no longer operating as a contraband camp, and all his visits are to the contraband camp north of Magnolia Vale. The 1864 Union Army map illustrates only one of the structures illustrated on the two maps of the slave markets dating to the 1850s. We can find no documentation of any use of the site or the survival of buildings after the Civil War. Today, other than signs and historic markers, there are no above ground features remaining from the slave market.
NAPAC Museum will be opening it’s doors to visitors on Feb 6 2021. We have taken the steps to make each visitor as safe as possible during these trying times of the pandemic as well as prepared our presentations in way that takes the visitor through the history and artifacts that are presented here .
We look forward to greeting you in February!!!
Bobby L Dennis
In order to get a true understanding of the History of a area i have always believed in knowing the background. what was there ? who occupied? and most of all what type of structure did they live by? These should be the first questions asked by a visitor wanting to understand the core culture of a community and where it is today. Most times we forget to think of evolution of a society because we are blinded by the present.
Before colonization of the Natchez area by the French Natchez was colonized by a proud and productive Indian Tribe called the Natchez. Within that tribe was was a proud Free Black man who was respected by the people and a great war leader. His importance and actions is the start of how the story of Natchez takes shape in American History today as his Name is never mentioned in Documents by the French and the the other colonizers of the area .
Now begins my challenge , to tell a story of great city that laid the foundation and hope of Nation to become all that it’s constitution stated. The lies, the personal plots of control and the will of the people for an equal right to enjoy prosperity and happiness through hard work and love of family.
Understanding Natchez History begins now . Through my series of blogs I will walk you through it as it is my duty and love for my city that you understand why we still struggle to get the real story told.
#we exist to tell our story Read more >
African American History In natchez
By Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M. Boxley
Date of Release: December 3, 2020
Released to Bobby Dennis of Natchez Mississippi for his publication.
“Campers discover Natchez on historic tour” read the headline of a Natchez Democrat article dated June 27, 1997.
According to the article about children in Adams County and Natchez Mississippi being taken on a Natchez City Recreation Department’s 1997 Summer and Natchez Visitors and Convention Bureau Historic Tour of Natchez, “the tour was meant to emphasize to the students their connection with Natchez history.”
I commended the Natchez Visitors and Convention Bureau’s Heritage Tourism and the City’s Recreation Department’s Summer Camp for their efforts that helped Africans In American descendant children learn about their connection with Natchez.
In learning about their connection with Natchez, African in America children (any other children for that matter) should be taught about the contributions, humanity and heritage of African Foreparents and Ancestors upon whose skills and labor the Natchez District was built. This gets rid of the old south narrative that “makes it look like white folks did everything all by themselves.”
However, when looking at Natchez’s “Black” experience and presence, which is also a mirror contrasting the white experience and presence then Africa must be and is the beginning point.
Africa, Africans and their civilizations and natural resources that went into the making of the America(s) and Natchez is the omitted or suppressed side of the same history of America, Europe and Natchez that answers the proverbial question…..”How did all this get here?”
In answering this question, there’s a missing flag over Natchez, the America(s) and Europe for that matter. Prominently flying over Natchez are the flags (in a variation of the colors of red, white and blue) of France, Spain, England, Euro-America and Confederate America.
These flags represent the European presence and contributions to the Natchez area specifically and the early America(s) generally.
Where is the flag representing the Africans’ contributions, humanity and presence?
This No. 9 St. Catherine Street Yellow House Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M Boxley’s Libation on the 54th Anniversary of the Attempted Assassination of NATCHEZ MISSISSIPPI National Association of Colored People (NAACP) Branch President George Metcalf
By Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M. Boxley
Date of Release: December 3, 2020
Released to Bobby Dennis of Natchez Mississippi for his publication.
On this day August 27, 2019 it was 54 years ago around noon that KKK types attempted to assassinate by car bomb then local Adams County-Natchez NAACP President George Metcalf.
On morning of August 27, 2019 at number 9 St. Catherine Street my person and Darrell White conducted a memorial African tradition libation aimed to bring attention to the history of the modern civil rights movement happenings that No. 9 St. Catherine Street yellow house represents and speaks about.
We acknowledged that it was kind of ironic that on August 27, 2019 in Adams County/Natchez Mississippi there was “Black” people going to vote in a runoff election because 54 years ago they couldn’t vote because of Jim Crow segregation racist discrimination and terror.
That this day is the same day that 54 years ago KKK types tried to assassinate the local NAACP President who had just filed a petition to desegregate voting.
Memory had faded so much that most folks today could not make the connection, nor understand the significance.
More cases of Select-amnesia-forget-us and Select-amnesia-don’t-want-us-to-remember illness permeate the Black and White population of Adams County and Natchez when it comes to historic memory of the modern civil rights kind.
This No. 9 St. Catherine Street Yellow House
This house is where George Metcalf lived upstairs while working at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company.
In this house George Metcalf operated a boarding-house business before the modern civil rights movement’s organizers came to Natchez in 1963 and 1964.
On July 21, 1964, as part of the state-wide Freedom Summer Project, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) workers returned to Natchez and attempted to organize a “Freedom Ballot” and begin a small Council of Confederated Freedom Organization (COFO) voter registration project.
This was being done with the help of George Metcalfe of the Natchez NAACP.
SNCC members included Dorie Ladner, Chuck McDew and Charles “Chico” Neblett, who established a base of operations under the auspices of COFO. SNCC members George Greene, Bill Ware and Burt Watkins also arrived in Natchez from elsewhere in the state of Mississippi.
Five days later George Metcalfe received a bomb threat in this house where some of the COFO workers slept.
KKK type persons attempted to assassinate beloved Dorie Ladner and some other out of town SNCC Civil rights workers by bombing SNCC’s Freedom House No. 1 located at “Jake Fisher’s” place in the 600 block of South Wall Street on July 1964. They had just arrived on July 21, 1964 and this house is where activist George Metcalf allowed them to stay until they set up Freedom House No. 2 at 119 East Franklin Street.
In January of 1965 threats against George Metcalf intensified when night riders fired shots through the window of this house.
At night armed guards protected this house that the freedom workers were allowed to stay.
From this house emerged two strong local leaders, George Metcalf and his good friend Wharlest Jackson Sr. both of them were active members of the Adams County-Natchez NAACP Branch and both worked at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company.
In March of 1965, new, more militant leaders were elected to lead the Natchez NAACP branch thereby replacing the old-guard.
This house’s resident George Metcalf was elected president and his dear friend Wharlest Jackson Sr, his co-worker at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant, was elected Treasurer.
Other members were Willie S. Scott, 1st Vice President, Archie Jones, 2nd Vice President, Jessie B. Bernard-Williams, Secretary, Mamie Mazique, Assistant Secretary. Other general members were Archie Curtis, John Fitzgerald, Mozana Green, Holy Family Church’s Father Morrissey, George West Sr., Jonathan Grennell, Rayfard Baptist, Robert Johnson Sr, Leon Howard, June Calhoun, Leola Newell, Willie Mae Robinson, Willie Mae Newman, Roy Merrick, R T. King and others.
On the second floor of this house George Metcalfe established the office of the now reorganized Natchez NAACP Branch.
At this house President George Metcalf faced constant death threats from Klansmen, many of whom were his co-workers at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant where he and NAACP Treasurer Wharlest Jackson Sr. begin organizing against Armstrong’s refusal to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plant’s jobs, restrooms, drinking fountains and break areas were all still segregated by race.
From this house the Adams County-Natchez NAACP branch conducted a voter registration project in the summer of 1965.
However that summer the COFO coalition was dissolved at the State level.
But at this house George Metcalf and Wharlest Jackson along with other Adams County–Natchez NAACP leaders maintained a good working relationship with SNCC’s Dorie Ladner and the other members of the Natchez project.
Over the summer of 1965 from this house the NAACP continued to work with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and SNCC on a project to challenge the all white members only of the Mississippi delegates to the National Democratic Party convention. With more volunteers and veteran SNCC organizers arriving at the SNCC’s Freedom House at 119 East Franklin Street, the voter registration project expanded.
After The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on August 6, 1965, outlawing practices designed to keep black citizens from registering to vote, out of this house NAACP leader George Metcalf in the middle of August filed a desegregation petition with the school board on behalf of himself and 11 other Blacks
Then the Klan stepped up their attack against George Metcalf with threats and violence.
From this house George Metcalf went to work at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant the night of August 26, 1965. It was his first shift working in a new position as a shipping clerk. It was a white-man only job.
On the morning of August 27, 1965 George Metcalf was told to work a half shift of overtime. He got off at noon to come home to this house. When he got in his 1955 Chevy in the Armstrong parking lot and turned on the ignition, a bomb that had been placed under the hood of his car exploded, destroying the car and badly injuring him. Miraculously he somehow survived.
While the NAACP President George Metcalf was being cared for at the then Jeff Davis Hospital, (now Merit Hospital) local angry Black people, young and old poured into the streets and showed up at the NAACP Office at this house by the hundreds that evening of the bombing.
Hundreds of people including organizers of SNCC and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party members among them jammed packed the front yard of this house and into the streets demanding action and called for marching on city hall and vengeance. Many Black folks were armed with pistols, rifles, shotguns and other weapons.
Interloping State NAACP director Charles Evers, brother of slain State NAACP leader Medgar Evers, rushed down from Jackson Mississippi and took command of the Natchez NAACP Branch office in this house. Evers stood on this house’s front porch and announced that “this was a NAACP Project.”
See the documentary film called “Black Natchez” which captured the crowd, the furious mood among the crowd, the rejection of other civil rights organizations’ leaders and the goings on in the NAACP office on the second floor of this house.
Over the next few days “Local people” galvanized and furiously held nightly mass meetings and planned demonstrations in the absence of satisfactory action coming from this house.
From this house NAACP members drew up a list of 12 demands that were approved at a mass meeting and presented by a select committee of older Black men to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen demanding the end of segregation.
SNCC organizer Bill Ware stood on the hood of a car in the street in front of this house encouraging local people to march on city hall, announced that Dorie Ladner had just told him that the Natchez Mayor John Nosser and the Board of Aldermen had rejected the list of demands they were to consider on September 2, 1965.
That very same September 2, 1965 the Natchez Mayor John Nosser and the Board of Aldermen imposed a 10:00 pm curfew – enforced only against blacks and prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages.
At the same time Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson dispatched 650 national guardsmen to patrol the city on September 2, 1965.
Over the next few days the Mississippi National Guard armed with fifty caliber guns and the Natchez Police were constantly driving up and down St. Catherine Street in front of this house. Speaking from the front porch of this house after Mayor John Nosser and the Board of Aldermen rejected the list of demands, Charles Evers – concerned about the possibility of a violent confrontation with the National Guard and the gathering of more than 500 blacks, called for an economic boycott of downtown white businesses instead of marching at that time.
James “Big Jack” Jackson who stood on the porch of this house during the mass gathering decided it was time to organize an organization of armed men to protect the Black community and civil rights workers from KKK, police and other whites’ terrorism, violence and intimidation. He and four others defied the curfew and traveled to Bogalusa Louisiana to meet with the Deacons for Defense and Justice leaders seeking their help with organizing the Natchez organization of Deacons for Defense and Justice (see various video and audio interviews of members of the original Natchez Deacons for Defense and Justice in Ser Boxley’s archives).
When Governor Johnson pulled the National Guard out of Natchez, leaving behind highway patrolmen to enforce the curfew, local people including NAACP leaders from this house organized the first demonstration of black citizens that took place on September 9, 1965 where 200 people marched peacefully on Natchez city hall.
At the same time local people including NAACP leaders from this house organized a strictly enforced within the Black Community, boycott of white businesses.
In retaliation, white owned businesses fired black employees and many white housewives dismissed their black maids. “(The movie The Help)”
On Saturday, September 25, nearly 1,000 local people demonstrated in the streets, and another march of 1,500 people was planned to march the next two nights later to test the curfew.
On October 2, 1965 more than 300 people lined up to march in defiance of the injunction; many more started to march on October 3rd and October the 4th.
These marches were to start from Beulah and China Grove Baptist churches and then proceed to the Adams County Courthouse, however the marchers were arrested immediately by the Natchez police on the sidewalks in front of the churches and taken to the city jail and City Auditorium for holding.
Hundreds were arrested on charges of parading without a permit, and once the local jails were filled, those over 12 years of age were sent to the notorious Parchman state Penitentiary, more than 200 miles away.
The abusive treatment of these non-violent Natchez citizens at the prison was horrifyingly inhuman. See the documentary film called “The Parchman Ordeal.”
It is written that using the methods of Armed self defense; economic boycott of white owned businesses; and enforcement of Blacks to honor the boycott, the local people’s modern civil rights movement that was ignited by the car bombing of the NAACP President who lived in this house and housed the local NAACP Branch’s office in this house was so successful that, “Whereas virtually every other local campaign had ended in failure during the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi, the Natchez project had mobilized an entire community and exacted sweeping concessions from the white establishment—without federal intervention.. The Natchez campaign was the single greatest community victory for the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi”…Professor Lance Hill, in his Book the Deacons for Defense, 2004
By Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M. Boxley
Date of Release: December 4, 2020
Released to Bobby Dennis of Natchez Mississippi for his publication.