Memorial service honors Rhythm Night Club fire legacy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 24, 2010

NATCHEZ — The annual Rhythm Night Club Memorial service was inspiring to many in attendance — partly because of the interracial aspect.

“All of Natchez was impacted by the Rhythm Night Club Fire — white and black,” said Ora Frazier, the speaker at the event. “We want to bring everyone together because all were impacted, and I am thankful God has brought us here.”

Natchez resident Eric Glatzer, who attended the service, said remembering the April 1940 event where 209 plus people died every year was a credit to Natchez.

“The positive aspect from which it is remembered — it is not so much dwelling on the departed but recognizing the positives that came from the fire,” Glatzer said. “I saw both white and black people in attendance, and that is inspiring.”

Family members of those who perished in the fire were to light the candle to commemorate the event and Natchez resident Theodore L. Johnson carried the honor as someone who lost his father at a very young age.

“It does me good as being a child of one of the deceased to know good things are still being remembered,” Johnson said.

Johnson also brought his son, who helped him light a candle during the service.

“I think it is very important that he knows something about his grandfather and how he died,” he said.

Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture Director Darrell White, in his purpose statement, said the event was to pay tribute to those who lost their lives 70 years ago, a loss he said Natchez is still struggling with.

“But the fire changed how we live,” White said. “Changes were made to building safety codes — word spread, and it is now recognized worldwide.”

As an example, White cited a magazine with a 12-page section on the fire that was written in French.

“People in Paris are paying tribute to the fire,” White said. “I am pleased that we as a community come together, so the fire will never be forgotten here in the city of Natchez.”

Natchez Business and Civic League Vice President Larry Jackson, who spearheaded this year’s memorial service of the 1940 fire, said it was proper that a service be held every year.

Andrew Calvit, who was the emcee of the event, said they missed one year, but would never miss it again.

“We had many phone calls asking why we did not do it,” Calvit said. “We will not make that mistake again.”

Natchez Business and Civic League’s memorial service is usually held on the bluff, but this year the rain brought it to the Zion Chapel African-American Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Mighty Men of Zion, including Johnson, sang selections at their church and Business League President Bishop Melvin Jackson gave the devotion.