100 Men Hall legacy preserved through oral history project

By Krystal Allan - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - It's a project preserving memories through the words of those who lived it.

"I can go back until I was 17-years-old. That's when I attended the first dance here," said Gloria Payne of Bay St. Louis.

Now, the memories of Gloria Payne and so many others will be forever preserved through an oral history project organized by The University of Southern Mississippi.

The historic 100 Men Hall is where all these memories were made.

Built in the early 1900s, it began as a social aid association. Organizations met there, but it went on to serve the community in more ways than initially intended.

"It evolved into a club on the Chitlin Circuit where all kind of great entertainers of the day - Chuck Berry, James Brown, B.B. King and Solomon Burke - played in all these little clubs," USM professor Beth Lafleur said.

During the 1900s, the 'Chitlin Circuit' was comprised of clubs where blacks could play their music, since they were not allowed to play in most white clubs.

"It was built out of necessity because the black citizens of this city had no where to go for entertainment. So they built this place and did all the entertainment here," Payne said.

People could dance and listen to entertainers till the wee hours of the morning, but not everyone could stay for all the fun.

"My mother didn't let me stay. She was standing outside the door, and when 12:30 came, I had to leave with her," Payne said.

Even the old photos on the walls of the restored hall have stories to tell.

"It looks like a Mardi Gras ball in this photo. I can see my grandmother, my aunt and my great-grandmother," said Charles Joseph of Bay St. Louis.

This oral history project has given people like Joseph an opportunity to reflect, remember and record a history too priceless to be forgotten.

"Most people either meet at weddings or funerals. After the wedding or funeral, you start talking to all the elders there. The elders tell their story and somebody's gonna say we should write that down, then nobody ever does."

But, thanks to USM it's being done in Bay St. Louis.

Jesse and his wife Kerri Loya would like to get a non-profit status for the building so it can sponsor more community-oriented events.  For more information about the project, visit www.usm.edu/gc/100-men-hall.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.