BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The 100 Men Hall in Bay St. Louis is best known for the legendary musicians who have graced its stage. Locals have recalled seeing the likes of Etta James, Guitar Slim, James Brown and many more of note. However, the history of the hall extends far beyond the music.
In fact, it goes back to a time when segregation still existed and those who were seen as outsiders had to find a place they could call home.
In the years following the Civil War, African Americans formed several fraternal and benevolent organizations. The One Hundred Members’ Debating Benevolent Association was one of them.
“In 1894, 12 civil-minded African American men in Bay St. Louis organized to form a benevolent society, and it was to help people bury their dead, help people with medical needs and also with schooling or whatever the community needed. It was a time... it was the Jim Crow south, so there were lots of dark forces opposing the sort of general good living of the African American community. They didn’t have access to burial insurance or medical insurance or anything like that. So, they organized, and a lot of people put their money into a pot, but in order to add to the treasury, they invited musicians to play," Rachel Dangermond, current owner of the hall, said.
The hall was built in 1922 and dedicated in 1923. The intent of the hall was to serve as a communal space for the African American community.
Golden Fairconnetue remembers the 100 Men Hall as a staple of her childhood. She specifically remembers the Mardi Gras balls that used to be held there.
“The Hall was always a part of us because after the parade and everything, the exciting part was we all got together, and we got to come over here and party because we couldn’t party with the grown people. But we got a chance to come in and party on Mardi Gras day, and that was the best," Fairconnetue said.
She also remembers paying dues at the back door.
“We would come and pay 50 cents at the door, and they would put your name on the book. You know you were a part of an association, so if anything happened to you like you got sick or something, they would you know give you a little stipend to help you out," Golden (Goldie) said.
The hall really evolved into a town hall where the community could gather for a multitude of events, including weddings and funerals.
“It was a place where people could come and feel comfortable celebrating life. This is a story where this community, not only survived under this incredible oppression, but they thrived. They found a way to celebrate life and have joy. It’s just an amazing story," Dangermond said.
Goldie recalls a childhood full of laughter, fun and joy. She recalls thriving within the walls of the 100 Men Hall, especially through traditions and celebrations like Mardi Gras.
“We really enjoyed Mardi Gras, and we had a lot of our grandparents and parents that instilled in us that this is the right thing to do. You know we didn’t have to go places to look for Mardi Gras right here at the 100 Men Hall," Goldie said.
Hurricane Katrina almost destroyed the hall, but a couple from California had other plans. Jessie and Kerrie Loya were able to restore the hall. In 2022, the hall will celebrate 100 years. The original cornerstone from the building’s 1923 dedication engraved with the names of D.B.A. Officers still remains.
“It’s a landmark, and like I said, the story of the people who built this hall and who made it what it is is a story of resilience and the building itself has proven to be more resilient than anything," Dangermond said.
Since the 100 Men DBA no longer exists, Dangermond has created a group called the 100 Women DBA. It’s a dues-paying organization that supports the hall and local busineswomen. Learn more about the 100 Women DBA HERE.