Rhythm Night Club fire victims remembered at commemoration

Published 12:50 am Sunday, April 23, 2017

By Christian Coffman

NATCHEZ — On a rainy Saturday, residents gathered near the site of one of the nation’s deadliest structure fires to remember the men and women who lost their lives at the Rhythm Night Club in 1940.

The Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum on St. Catherine Street hosted a commemoration ceremony in front of the museum.

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The tragic fire occurred on the night of April 23, 1940, and killed 209 people and severely injured several others.

The fire is the fourth deadliest club fire in American history. The fire was one of a string of deadly blazes nationwide that eventually led to new fire safety standards, including fire code adoptions, inspections and enforcement.

Museum owners Monroe and Betty Sago hosted Saturday’s commemoration service as they have since 2008.

“We do it every Saturday before the fourth Sunday of April,” Betty Sago said. “We try and get as close to the date of when the fire occurred.”

After an opening prayer and a song from members of the youth group Jams, Monroe Sago welcomed those who had gathered and gave a speech on the purpose of the memorial.

“This was a very tragic thing that happened here, and it was one of the worst fires that ever happened in the United States,” Monroe Sago said. “It’s important that young people know about this piece of history because it almost died.”

Lakeria Kaho read a poem she had wrote from the perspective of the survivors of the fire titled “Remember Me.”

Mississippi State University student Muriel Shardee Vivians spoke about the theme of the memorial service, which was “Attitude of Gratitude.”

“This museum is a piece of history that I am thankful to know,” Vivians said. “This tragedy strongly impacted our community. The Attitude of Gratitude means being thankful daily, big or small.”

Augustine Reynolds has attended at the memorial service for many years.

“Attitude comes a long way, said,” she said. “Every year I look forward to coming.”

Gladys Smith and her children have attended the memorial service for the last three years.

“It’s history, it’s our history,” Smith said. “It’s worthwhile for our youth to learn.”

In previous years, Betty Sago said she has been able to meet survivors of the fire and listen to their stories.

“They were able to tell the story of what happened to them and how their lives were impacted,” Betty Sago said. “It gives you an appreciation for what they went through, and how the fire impacted our lives and made us safer today.”