Ritz sign debate now a dead issue

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 2, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The sign above the Ritz Theater right door in the 1950s contained a simple message &8212; &8220;Colored Entrance.&8221;

For a group of residents, attempts to restore the small sign have caused some big concerns.

But Mimi Miller, Director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, said Wednesday efforts to interpret the civil rights movement at the theater have now been scrapped.

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Tuesday evening, the Natchez Board of Alderman approved a request for a June 27 public hearing on an appeal of the preservation commission&8217;s approval of the movie house renovations.

At the center of the appeal was the foundation&8217;s plans to restore the sign as part of the city&8217;s civil rights heritage. With the sign, a marker would tell tourists and residents about the history of segregation in the South, including the use of separate entrances for whites and blacks.

Other plans for the renovation include the restoration of the theater&8217;s neon marquee, rebuilding the art deco ticket booth and replacing the original chandeliers that once hung in the theater&8217;s entrance.

City Planner Andrew Smith said a group of 10 concerned citizens have requested the preservation commission&8217;s approval be amended to not include the sign.

&8220;I do not believe they are opposed to the renovation of the fa?ade,&8221; Smith said. &8220;It appears that this particular group has concerns about the signage.&8221;

Miller said she understands many of the concerns and the sign would not be installed.

&8220;As far as I am concerned, it is a dead issue,&8221; Miller said Wednesday. &8220;We would never put up any marker that people objected to.&8221;

&8220;Any thought of interpreting the civil rights history of the Ritz Theatre has been discarded.

The foundation staff was attempting to respond to African-American concerns about the lack of interpretation of the civil rights era in Natchez,&8221; Miller said. &8220;Although the idea was well-intentioned, it has obviously fallen flat on its face.&8221;

Miller said the foundation wants to work with the black community to assist them in exploring the best ways to interpret this important period of our country&8217;s history.