Natchez, MS Dance Hall Fire, Apr 1940

100 to 150 Negroes Die in Fire at Natchez; Trapped as Flames Sweep a Dance Hall

NATCHEZ, Miss., Wednesday, April 24 - Sheriff Hyde R. Jenkins said that at least 100 Negroes were burned to death in a dance hall fire here late, last night. Others estimated the death toll at possibly 150. R. E. Smith, managing editor of The Natchez Democrat, said that the bodies were "piled up like cordwood."

Almost all the Negro population of Natchez gathered, at the scene after midnight. Thirty or forty other Negroes, burned or injured in the stampede to leave the flaming building, were taken to hospitals.

Mr. Smith, who also is County Coroner, said that the building in which the dance was held was formerly a church and had an exit only at the front. The windows had been boarded up. The hall was decorated with Spanish moss, which is highly inflammable, and apparently caught fire near the front, trapping everyone inside.

Most of the bodies were found in a heap near the bandstand at the rear. It was estimated that several hundred Negroes were in attendance. The hall, known as the Rhythm Night Club, featured regular dances at which music was furnished by nationally known bands.

Located on St. Catherine Street, in the Negro section, the building was only a few blocks from the city's commercial district.

April 24, 1940 edition of "The New York Times"