Rhythm Club Fire remembered

Published 2:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2008

NATCHEZ — A small crowd of people gathered on the bluff Wednesday evening in reverence of the lives lost in the Rhythm Club Fire on April 23, 1940.

Wednesday marked the 68th anniversary of the fire that claimed 241 lives and changed the face and the history of the black community in Natchez.

Each year, the Natchez Business and Civic League commemorates those lives by placing a floral wreath on the marker that lists the names of those lost.

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This year, survivor Rosalie Hawkins placed the wreath on the marker.

Hawkins was a senior in high school the night she went to the Rhythm Club, sporting pedal pushers and a young man on her arm.

This very man was the one who, when the fire started, knocked out a window and helped Hawkins out, saving her life.

Hawkins said she thinks of the event nearly every day of her life.

“Some days it’s real heavy on me,” she said. “You never forget it.”

She said she is grateful that every year citizens gather on the bluff to reflect on the tragedy.

“It’s nice that they still remember,” she said.

Eugenia B. Perry also joined the crowd to remember those lost.

She did not attend the club that evening as she was too young and still in junior high school.

She said she did have a relative who died in the fire, a senior in high school who played the clarinet.

“She was very talented,” Perry said.

Amidst praise and worship songs performed by the Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal choir and a saxophone solo by local musician Ronnie Reese, the families and descendants of those lost in the fire gathered to light white candles in remembrance.

Darrell White, director of the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African-American Culture Museum, lit a candle as well.

“I extend this candle in loving spirit to all whose names are listed on the monument behind us,” he said.