Gulf Pine Catholic

Volume 41, Issue 10 January 5, 2024 G ulf P ine C atholic Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Biloxi St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Gulfport unveils historical marker on site of old parish hall BY TERRY DICKSON GULFPORT -- The rain held off long enough on December 16 for parishioners of St. Therese Lisieux Parish in Gulfport to gather on the site of the old parish hall for the unveiling of a historical marker. “This is a great day for St. Therese, a very historic day that we hope can be preserved for generations to come,” said St. Therese parishioner Yolanda Mayberry. “Back in 1941, in this little coastal town of Gulfport right here in the quarters on 19th Street, St. Therese had a parish hall. From what I’ve been told, it was one of the historical jewels of our community. The parish hall served the parish with all the various activities that the church had but it also reached out into the community and allowed community members to meet and hold dif- ferent events and things of that nature. The hall was also used as a United States Service Organization (USO) Center that the military center could use for African American soldiers who, at the time, were not able to congregate, recreate and have meetings. So, we are cel- ebrating that as well.” In doing research on the history of the parish hall, parishioner Isaiah Edwards ran into a roadblock. “There was only one article about St. Therese in the local paper at that time,” he said. “So I always say, if someone else decided not to tell your history, you must tell your history yourself.” Edwards said the lone newspaper article from that time-period expounded on the USO. “That was the place where young colored military people would meet,” he said. “They called it the colored USO. They had several but we could not use them. The only one we could use was the colored USO.” Edwards touched on how the military got involved. “Initially, the men of the parish built the hall. It was wooden with tar paper,” he said. “It was basically a tar paper shack and I guess they signed an agreement with the Navy for this building to become a USO. The Navy Seabees rebuilt this place and it was one of the best USOs in Mississippi. It was a beautiful place that they built here.” Edwards said, “When you’re talking about the mili- tary at this particular time, we’re talking about people that were going to war. You’re trying to free someone else but, basically, you couldn’t free yourself. So, this for us as military people -- and I was in the military for 26 years -- was a place where we could find out information about the local area. They also told us the places in town where we could not go.” Edwards said top entertainment passed through Gulfport to perform at St. Therese, including Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and B.B. King. “Anyone that was on the Chitlin’ Circuit,” said Edwards. “They had some famous people come through this hall and it wasn’t just local entertainers.” Edwards said the building was also a community center. “Kids played basketball and volleyball here,” he said. “It was very significant for the whole community. St. Therese has something her to be very proud of.” The wording on the sign reads, “The hall was built in 1941 under the direction of Josephite Father Joseph Hennessey across from the church. It was used by the parish for a variety of purposes. It was also served as a United States Service Organization (USO) center for African American military personnel serving on the Gulf Coast during World War II. Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King and Count Basie were among the performers who per- formed in the hall. The parish was demolished in 1980 after sustaining heavy damage inflicted by Hurricane Frederic. “ Current pastor Father Hyginus Boboh, S.S.J., said the goal is to build a new hall on the site of the old parish hall. Pictured at the unveiling, l-r, are Gulfport Councilman Kenneth “Truck” Casey, Wilfred Odom, Father Boboh, Lois Hawthorne, Gayla Evans, Yolanda Mayberry, Robert Thomas and Emma Lyons. Photos/Terry Dickson