A Community Treasure
“I’m just overwhelmed with joy – and this joy comes from seeing the 100 Men Hall rise like the Phoenix from the years of neglect, and the ravages of hurricanes and storms, to become the shining star of the Gulf Coast . . .”
Deacon John, June 17, 2011 Dedication Ceremony for 100 Men Hall historic marker.
On June 16, Bay St. Louis own’s 100 Men Hall celebrated its First Anniversary of the unveiling of its Mississippi Blues Trail marker. It was one year ago, on June 17, 2011, that the informative marker was placed in front of the 100 Men Hall at 303 Union Street. (The Mississippi Blues Trail consists of a series of historical markers throughout the state that tell the stories of bluesmen and women, and how the places where they lived influenced their music.)
As you can learn from the marker itself, the One Hundred Members D.B.A. (Debating Benevolent Association) was formed in 1894 by a group of African-American residents from Bay St. Louis. The group was a social organization whose primary purpose was to “assist its members when sick, bury its dead in a respectable manner and knit friendship.” Despite its name, the association was founded by twelve men, and the nature of its “debates” remains unclear. (In other organizations, the initials D.B.A. often stood for Death and Burial Association.) Its charter stipulated that “the association may from time to time give entertainments for the purpose of replenishing the treasury.”
In 1922, the One Hundred Members DBA constructed an open air, screened meeting hall at 303 Union Street in Bay St. Louis. The building was later completely enclosed and became the center of the African American social scene in Bay St. Louis, hosting social events and fundraisers of all sorts. Over the years the hall came to be known as the One Hundred Men Hall. After World War II, the 100 Men D.B.A. Hall became a stop on the “chitlin circuit,” a network of African American clubs, with many of the acts booked out of New Orleans.
During the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s, many of the region’s greatest blues and R&B artists performed at The One Hundred Men Hall, including Etta James, Big Joe Turner, Guitar Slim, James Booker, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, Deacon John, Ernie K-Doe, Earl King, and Mississippi Gulf Coast favorites like Carl Gates & the Decks, and Guitar Bo and Miss Dee. The Disabled American Veterans acquired the 100 Men D.B.A Hall in the mid-1970s. After several incarnations, including life as a bingo hall in the 1980s, the building was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was rescued from demolition and restored to its original state by Jesse and Kerrie Loya, with the help of a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). The Loyas restored it with the intent of creating a nonprofit community center and venue.
Last year’s marker dedication was also a bluesy neighborhood bash, and featured a moving speech by New Orleans bandleader Deacon John, one of the greats who used to play at 100 Men Hall in its heyday. The Homemade Jamz Blues Band gave a free concert to a crowd of hundreds of BSL blues fans. Check out the Cleaver calendar for monthly shows at 100 Men Hall - they're always amazing events!