Thompson walk stirs memories

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 17, 2000

I’ve walked through the old Sadie V. Thompson school several times since the high school itself closed down in 1969.

The Natchez Boxing Club works out in the old band hall. There were wrestling matches there last year.

The most memorable times, however, was in the 1980s, when North Natchez and South Natchez would play their basketball games there because North Natchez’s crackerjack gym was too small for the crowd that would line the courts for those encounters.

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But until last week when I walked the halls with 1969 graduate Johnny Baldwin did it really sink in the number of great athletes and the special memories left at this building, which is now run by AJFC&160;Community Active Agency, Inc.

There were the high brick walls in Thompson Gym which had the same floor that was first put down and same bleachers. There was even the same old signs saying, &uot;The Den&uot; Home of the Cougars and Jaguars.

Thompson High, which was built in 1955, closed down in 1969 and was made into a junior high, until 1988, when the consolidation of South Natchez and North Natchez left the building empty.

In the 1990s, AJFC Community Action Agency, Inc., took over the building and has made some nice improvements.

But it was still awesome to walk the old halls, look at the old lockers with faded numbers on metal tags and combinations where you could hardly read the numbers.

Then there is the assembly hall with 33 rows of seats, 28 across each roll in front of a stage where athletes from each team were introduced. And that doesn’t include a balcony that no longer exists.

Baldwin couldn’t even try to name the number of outstanding athletes who came through Thompson. But there is one thing he knew for sure.

&uot;Nobody who attended this school had much, but we all left with a lot of pride.&uot;

One of those special athletes — Bob Shannon –&160;went on to lead troubled East Saint Louis High to national championships, earning visits from President Bill Clinton because of how he turned a town that was at the bottom of the poverty and crime-ridden totem pole into a place that took pride in its football team.

&uot;There are people all over the country from Sadie V.&160;Thompson who are doing well,&uot; Baldwin said.

Baldwin was part of a Thompson basketball team that competed for the Big Eight title for black schools twice, losing to Lanier and Temple High of Vicksburg.

He talked about how good the 1961 team with Eddie West was. That team won the state championship and competed in a national tournament.

&uot;We had some great athletes such as George West Jr., and Eddie West,&uot; he said. &uot;Then there was Clarence Fleming, Larry Cameron and Floyd Rice.&uot;

It was easy to see the list could go on and on.

I marveled at the stories and wondered how those athletes must have felt – being just as talented as the guys over at Natchez High and around the state, but not receiving the recognition.

&uot;It was frustrating,&uot; Baldwin said. &uot;They wouldn’t let us play each other. But on Sundays a group of white guys would get together with us, and we would just play football and basketball. They ran us off from Natchez High and Cathedral’s football field. So we would just come to Thompson and play. We never had an argument or fight; we just wanted to play.&uot;

I was really taken by something Baldwin later said.

&uot;I don’t think it was a matter of hatred. I think it was more miscommunication.&uot;

Some things just don’t change.

Joey Martin is sports editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3632 or at