Thompson grads reflect on changes

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 4, 2010

NATCHEZ — In addition to two-way traffic on Canal Street and the existence Natchez Convention Center and Grand Hotel, Kansas resident Jessie Murphy said another thing that’s changed in Natchez since she has grown up isn’t as tangible, but is certainly notable.

Murphy can now stay at the Eola Hotel if she wants, something a black woman wasn’t able to do 44 years ago.

Murphy, who now runs the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, traveled with her husband to Natchez along with more than 492 registered guests from 46 states for the Sadie V. Thompson Era reunion.

The school closed in 1970 by court order when desegregation sent students elsewhere.

Murphy said she enjoyed rehashing the past with her classmates from the class of 1966.

As Murphy points out, the reuniting of classmates from the era of 1954 to 1970 has historic value as well as bringing old friends together.

Natchez resident and SVT alumnus, Phillip West, said a former social studies teacher reminded him why reunions were important.

West said his favorite teacher, Eva J. Brown, would tell every class, “You all better be nice and kind to each other because after you graduate 90 percent of you will never see each other again.”

“Even though I was 17, that stuck in my head.”

This threat was enough to get alumni of Sadie V. Thompson, Natchez Junior College and St. Francis High to organize a reunion that involved the entire school communities, which gave a better change of keeping in touch.

The era reunion has been well attended since it started in 1994, Katie Moore said. She said organizers used to put on the event once every three years, but they now have it every other year.

The reunion includes classes from 1954 until 1970.

West said the historic significance of the period also unites the era reunion in a special way because it was a time period, which included Brown V. Board of Education, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and more.

“This particular period provided experience that no other group of students would have,” West said.

Roy Lewis, a 1956 graduate who now lives in Washington, D.C., said it means a lot to come home and see his former classmates.

“Sharing each other’s energy … it’s rejuvenating,” he said.

Lewis also works as a regional representative on the east coast, working to keep Natchez natives in touch.

He said everyone in the area with Sadie V. Thompson or Natchez ties is invited to a quarterly breakfast.

West said another goal of the reunion is to bring business to Natchez by influencing other reunions and filling hotels, which the large crowd at the convention center Saturday evening suggested.