Country is indebted to tragic fire

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 25, 2010

As the oldest European settlement on the Mississippi River, Natchez has experienced several key tragic events in its nearly 300-year history.

Such events range from the massacre of early French settlers by the Natchez Indians in 1729 and the subsequent war on the Natchez to the most surprising and unpreventable, the tragic tornado that ripped apart the city in 1840, reportedly killing more than 300 people.

That tornado still ranks the second most deadly in United States history.

But perhaps the most tragic event for our community, and the least well known for people outside of Natchez, is the Rhythm Night Club fire, which killed at least 209 Natchez residents in 1940.

It’s most tragic for several reasons.

First, it claimed the lives of a generation of Natchez’s young blacks. Their potential was cut short, well ahead of their prime.

But the fire was most tragic because of the factors around the fire and the seemingly preventable nature of the fire.

A club decorated with flammable Spanish moss and a lack of adequate emergency exits made the Rhythm Night Club a death trap.

Although we may not ever know the potential impact the 209 souls may have had on our community if their lives had not been cut short, we do know the impact their tragic deaths had on the world around us.

The deadly fire helped to change our country’s attitudes about building and fire codes, which were lax prior to the fire and have been improved since.

For that, our community, perhaps even our country, will be indebted to the lives lost in the Rhythm Night Club fire. And for that, we should always remember them with memorials such as the ones our community had this weekend.