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226 Negroes perish in fire

By
United Press

NATCHEZ, Miss. -- Authorities counted 226 known dead today in, a 15-minute fire that swept through the Rhythm club, Negro dance hall, Tuesday night and that some of the 40 who were seriously injured probably would die.

Corner R. F. Smith said 226 bodies, many of them burned so badly identification was impossible, had been taken to undertaking parlors and that the others still were at hospitals where they died.

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Smith said many of the Negro patrons of the moss-festooned dance hall, which at one time had been a Negro church, came from Louisiana and it would be days before they could be identified.

"We will just line the bodies up and let their relatives pick them out," he said.

All bodies had been removed from the pile of ashes and twisted tin which had been the walls, floor, and roof of the Rhythm club, the "society" night club of Natchez's colored section.

The nature of the tragedy to this city's 8,000 Negroes, who comprise 60 per cent of the population, would be comparable to a disaster in a white community in which its leaders were decimated. Among the dead were a large number of Natchez's comparatively few educated Negroes physicians, lawyers teachers, social workers the leaders of the colored community.

The fire lasted only 15 minutes in which time the flimsy shack-like building was reduced to ashes.

The white people of Natchez protested today against the lone exit toward which nearly 500 screaming Negroes fought and clawed as the flames flashed through dried Spanish moss hanging from rafters and along the walls. They demanded a city ordinance requiring more exits in dance halls.

The Negroes had danced for hours to the syncopating swing music of Walter Barnes Negro orchestra out of Chicago. Then a spark was touched that turned the merrymaking into a rout of horrifying screams.

A trumpet note was heard occasionally through the din and flames as Barnes' orchestra tried to quiet the frenzy.

Julius Hawkins, 27-year-old Negro pressman of the Natchez Democrat who escaped from the inferno told of the fire:

"I've never seen anything! like it before in all my life. I was standing near the door. It caught near me and spread all over the place. I turned, made a run for the door and got out with only a scratch.

"InsIde I could hear everybody trying to get out. They were crushing each other, many were stomped to death. Others were smothered and suffocated. All were crying, yelling-, fire burning them. It was a horrible sight; young girls, boys, all friends of mine, were in there. I hope I never see the like of it again. You can't imagine the sight. They were trapped like rats."

Charlie Hall, 32-year-old Negro truck driver, said:

"I jumped through one of the windows and saved myself. Many persons were under chairs and tables, all badly burned. They had sought shelter there, but it was not for long. Soon I could hear their cries. It was terrible."

Sam Serio, member of the Natchez fire department, said that when the truck arrived at the dance hall "bodies were stacked waist high all over the building."

"It was a veritable firetrap," Serio said. "There was no escape. They were burned to death or trampled under each other's feet. It was the worst sight I've seen in 30 years of fire fighting."

Barnes and five of his orchestra -including a girl singer were known dead. One was still miss-' ing by mid-morning. Four other members of the orchestra and Barnes brother, Allen manager of the band, escaped.

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