Port City Kiwanians celebrate 50th anniversary

Published 8:00 am Saturday, April 22, 2023

Thursday night, the members of the Port City Kiwanis Club gathered at Hawkins United Methodist Church to celebrate a milestone in the club’s history — its 50th anniversary.

Most of the club’s charter members are no longer with the organization, but its history and unique nature weren’t lost on the present members. Port City was an unusual organization for the time — it was a biracial organization; a rarity in 1970s race-conscious Mississippi.

That history was remembered by Travis T. Vance Jr., who with his brother, Travis Wayne Vance, are the surviving charter members.

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“In 1973, Clifton Watson, who worked at the Mercy Hospital, and a group of us got together — Black and white,” Vance told the members.

“You never had a multi-racial club like this; never had one before, and we joined together to promote that,” Vance said. “We met and we got a charter, I think in ’74, and you would be amazed at the people that loved the city enough and wanted racial equality for everybody in our community — you’ve got to remember this is 1974.”

Vance said the club counted among its members elected officials like James Andrews, who was a Warren County Supervisor at the time, and school officials like James Stirgus Sr., whom Vance called “my very, very best friend. He was part of the formation of this club.

“We reached out and we had the best of time making this club a real viable club in the community and recognized by everybody in the community as we got started,” he said. “Everybody wondered how this club was going to flourish and grow.”

But when the club held its 7 a.m. meetings at the Holiday Inn, he said, people could hardly get in the room.

“So many people came to our club,” Vance said, adding one attraction was the program topics.

“We spoke about race relations, about the community, about the things in the community that need to be done and for whom they had to be done,” he said. “We had recognized the Key Club as part of our community, and it was such a pleasure to become a part of that.”

When the club began looking for a fundraiser to raise money to help people in the community, Vance said, the members decided to cut firewood.

“I’ll never forget Jim Sturgis with an ax in his hand and me with a sledgehammer with a wedge in my hand trying to split wood,” he recalled.

“We cut wood for days and days in the winter time and a load of wood went to somebody’s home who couldn’t afford to have wood to burn for the winter time because they couldn’t afford to buy it.”

At that time, Vance said, people didn’t use gas for heating as they do now, so the club would many times give wood to people who needed it.

“Your club today has come from zero to a very important club in this community,” Vance told the members. “It is well recognized and well known in the community.

“It will always be remembered in my mind as the most wonderful club or service club to be a part of and a member of because I established many relationships, Black and white, in that club.”

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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