Auditorium books more funerals

Published 7:43 pm Friday, February 14, 2014

Built in 1956, the Vicksburg Auditorium on Monroe Street has hosted many local events.
At one time, it hosted the Miss Mississippi Pageant. It’s the venue for annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day programs, and programs honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Former mayor Paul Winfield gave a “State of the City” address there in 2012 and, a year later, the current Board of Mayor and Aldermen were sworn into office there.
Musical and comedy shows, dance recitals and parties have filled its wooden floors and stadium seats. But for the past 14 years, it has been the location for a different function — funerals.
According to The Vicksburg Post’s archives, at least 36 funerals have been held at the auditorium since 2000, including several honoring prominent local residents.
The funeral for actress and Vicksburg native Beah Richards was held there in 2000. More recently, funerals for Warren County Constable and Vicksburg police officer Randy Naylor Sr., and Charles Scott, Mississippi’s first black American Legion state commander, were held at the auditorium.
And the venue’s standing as place to pay last respects to loved ones seems to have grown in the past year. According to information from the Vicksburg Convention Center officials, 15 funerals were booked at the auditorium in 2013, between Jan. 1 and when the city reassumed management of the facility Oct. 1 from Iowa-based VenuWorks, which had managed both VCC and the auditorium for 12 years.
Figures from the City Clerk’s office, which now books events at the auditorium, indicate seven funerals have been booked since the city took over the building.
The reason families prefer to have funerals at the auditorium, local funeral directors said, is space — inside and for parking.
At one time, funeral director Charles Riles said, large city churches, like First Baptist Church and First Presbyterian, were large enough to hold large funerals.
“Now, we are seeing younger people dying,” he said, “and they get classmates to attend, and they need a larger space. You don’t have any place large enough to hold a large number of people other than the auditorium or the convention center.”
Funeral director James Jefferson agreed.
“There are only about two or three churches that can accommodate a large funeral,” he said.
Jefferson said black families are the primary users of the auditorium for funerals, adding, “I don’t recall any of the white funeral homes having funerals there.”
Riles and funeral directors at Fisher and Glenwood say they have never had funerals at the auditorium.
Besides offering more room, Jefferson said, the auditorium “is neutral ground. Some people don’t attend a regular church, and some people who attend church regularly want to have their funeral where people (from other churches) will feel comfortable going.”
“There’s plenty of parking, you’ve got a large parking area, you have plenty of seating and it’s comfortable,” Jefferson said. “You have a well-kept building, the air conditioning and heating are good, and the building is versatile; you can hold a repast (meal) after the service by changing the seating and the building has a kitchen.
“Greater Grove Street Church held its services until it got a new building.”
John Carroll, pastor of Jackson Street Missionary Baptist Church and a deputy city clerk, who has conducted several funerals at the auditorium, said the building’s size and versatility is a plus.
“Our church has a lot of stairs, and when we have a funeral a lot of the relatives and people who attend are older and may not be able to handle the stairs without assistance,” he said. “It makes it easier on them.”
Holding a funeral service in there is no different than holding one at his church, he said, except for the size. And his duties are still the same.
“I assist the family in any way. I try to help them feel comfortable and help them make the transition in their lives. Their needs come first.”***BUILDING MUG*** Vicksburg City Auditorium

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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