Dressed in riding jodhpurs, a frock coat and fashionable boots and hat — and with a $10,000 diamond ring covering half of his finger — Tom Wince was one of the most easily recognizable people in Vicksburg in the 1950s and 1960s.
When he wasn’t out walking, he could be seen in a sporty car in which he had installed a small chandelier, complete with shiny prisms, hanging from the interior where any other car would have had an ordinary bulb. To top it all in an era when a telephone in a car was the rarest of rarities, Tom Wince had one in his car. Some said it didn’t work, and that it was just a prop, but it impressed folks to see him riding along, presumably talking on his car phone.
Tom Wince was best known as the proprietor of the famous Blue Room Skyline nightclub on Mulberry Street. Tom was also famous as possibly the only local person featured in the popular TV series, “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.”
Wince was born in the Oak Ridge community north of Vicksburg in 1911. As a lad he started coming to town, paying Tom Money 25 cents for a ride. When Money increased the fare to 50 cents, then 75 cents and finally a dollar, Wince told him he wouldn’t be going back home because, “It was cheaper to stay in town.”
He got a job as a bellhop at the National Park Hotel and then worked as a waiter in the hotel restaurant. On Oct. 17, 1937, he decided to put what he had learned about business to use. He rented a building for $6 a month, spent $10 on merchandise and opened The Blue Room. In 1941, he bought the building, and in 1945 he turned the top floor into a big ballroom, calling it The Skyline.
That meager investment, followed by adding the ballroom, resulted in some of the biggest names in the music business performing in Vicksburg. Playing on opening night in The Skyline on Thanksgiving, 1945, was an all-girl band from Little Rock, Arkansas, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
For the next 27 years, the famous came to perform. The magic fingers of Fats Domino, Joe Liggins and Ray Charles tickled the keys of the big red and blue grand piano. From the center of the stage Louis Armstrong blew his famous trumpet, and Dinah Washington, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Roy Brown sang the blues. Band leaders such as Lionel Hampton, Bill Doggett and Lucky Millender conducted their orchestras.
Others came to The Blue Room, musicians such as Joe Turner of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” fame, Louis Jordan, B.B. King, Little Milton, T-Bone walker — and of course Vicksburg’s hometown favorites, The Red Tops. Wince booked many bands that had never before played in the South.
The biggest crowd to ever appear in the Blue Room was the night Louis Armstrong played here, Wince said. It was when segregation was the law, and Wince roped off a section of the ballroom for his white friends. As the night went on, the rope came down, and everybody was dancing. The crowd was so huge that Wince was literally afraid the building might collapse. But it didn’t, and once the show was over, Wince spent the rest of the night counting the money.
He provided many good times for a lot of people, and he said his success was partially due to treating everybody the same. He said he tried to stop arguments before they started. A sign behind the bar advised: “Bad Talkers & Actors We Can Get Along Without You.” It was said at times he leaped across the bar, pistol in hand, ordering people out of the building if they couldn’t behave.
Wince was not without his problems. Some said it was a setup, but Wince was arrested, tried and convicted of selling stolen property in the mid-1940s. He thought he could defend himself because he was not guilty, but he lost the case, was sentenced to four years in prison, of which he served two. Many thought the affair was politically motivated.
The Blue Room was the scene of some of the largest balls ever held in this area, and the club was the largest and finest one owned by a black man in the South.
Wince was never afraid of hard work — some said he could out work any three bartenders on the 50-foot long bar. In addition to work he was also very involved in local organizations: He was an Elk, a Shriner, a 33rd degree Mason and a Baptist.
In 1970, Wince, in his pink Thunderbird, represented Mississippi and his lodge in a parade of 17,000 at the Elks convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and before a crowd of 10,000, according to The Elk News, he “modeled his wonderful wardrobe in grand style, adding charm to the show.”
Wince was a coin collector, loved fishing and had a collection of about 2,000 jazz records of famous orchestras. He loved to travel, and one of his obsessions was prize fights. He attended most of the championship fights of his day and counted Joe Louis as a close friend.
He once promised his mother he wouldn’t miss going to church, and in 1972, he had not missed a Sunday service in 11 years. He didn’t gamble, smoke, or drink and was a member of King Solomon Baptist Church.
Wince made a lot of money — his son Wardell said if he made $100, he spent $105 —and it took a lot to operate The Blue Room. Most of what he made he reinvested into the business, and by doing a lot of the work himself, he kept down expenses and had the satisfaction of being his own boss.
He said he had many “ups and downs, many bitters and sweets, but I have enjoyed these 35 years. I’ve made so many friends all over the country.” He made some enemies, too, “in trying to run a nice place, but I held tight as I knew I couldn’t satisfy everyone.”
When Vicksburg underwent urban renewal in 1972, the Blue Room was a victim. It was closed and demolished. Wince then opened a smaller club, The Barrel, which included a prayer room with religious motifs. but it never gained the fame of The Blue Room Skyline.
Tom Wince died in 1978 and is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery where a large marble star marks his grave. The following epitaph is engraved, along with his name: “An Internationally Known Night Club Owner Who Established and Operated the Famous Blue Room Night Club from 1937 – 1972.”
In 1972, when the Blue Room was closing, I met and interviewed Tom Wince. Behind the bar was a large painting, a mulatto nude on velvet, and Tom offered it to me. I lived at home, under my father’s roof, and I knew I could never take it into the house, so I declined. I regret that.
Many years later, in 2011, I interviewed Wince’s oldest son, Wardell Wince, for a two-part story. Wardell had joined the Marines when he was a teenager, and “once a Marine always a Marine.” Wardell pulled no punches — you didn’t need an interpreter to understand him — he shot straight from the shoulder.
In two words Wardell summed up and described his father: “Arrogant” and “Flashy.”
Regardless, Wince remains a legendary figure in local history.
The widow Bourne and her ‘terrifically terrible’ tale
She told a tragic tale: Her name was Marie, and her husband had been a Union soldier who moved to Vicksburg and married her after the Civil War. He had been murdered by an unrepentant Rebel, shot down in cold blood just because he was a Yankee.
The woman and her three small children had moved to New Orleans. When the children grew up, she told them the story, and they repeated it from one generation to the next.
Wanting to know more of the family history, a lady and her college-age son came to the Old Court House Museum some years ago for genealogical research. They didn’t find what they expected. The lady was mortified, and her son laughed heartily, for the Vicksburg newspapers in 1884 told a different tale from what Marie had said.
The not-very-grieving widow had changed not only the facts but also her name. In Vicksburg she was Mary, not Marie, and according to the newspaper accounts, she was the cause of a double murder.
Joshua Bourne, who first came to Vicksburg as a captain in a Missouri Union regiment, came back after the war and married 14-year-old Mary Maybin. During the carpetbagger rule he was elected chancery clerk of Warren County.
The other man in the triangle, James. T. Metzler, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but grew up in Vicksburg. He was a member of Swett’s Battery in Confederate service, performing with “marked gallantry and bravery.” He did not marry, lived at home and after the war was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi.
The Bourne’s were having family problems, and Mary filed for divorce and moved out of the house. Joshua Bourne went to court, seeking custody of the children. It was rumored that Metzler was the cause of the separation, but he said he simply represented Mary Maybin Bourne as a business agent and that Joshua had been a brutal husband.
Both men went armed, and rumors were rampant that things would come to a head — and they did on Sept. 5, 1884, a Friday morning. Metzler was downtown chatting with a friend when Bourne approached, drew a pistol and opened fire just 5 feet away, the bullet penetrating Metzler’s bowels. He fled to the Famous Dry Goods Emporium nearby, Bourne in pursuit, pistol in hand, firing rapidly.
Metzler got behind a counter, managed to draw his pistol, and both fired until their guns were empty. Then they clutched one another in a death grip until bystanders separated them. Metzler had struck Bourne twice, wounding him above the heart and in the abdomen.
Clerks and customers screamed and fled in what the Herald described as “terrifically terrible” and “perfectly appalling.” Bourne was left on the floor as it was thought he would die any moment, and Metzler was removed by carriage to his parents’ house on Jackson Street. Bourne was later taken to the Madrid House, a hotel on Veto Street, but before that, lying in a pool of blood, he had asked to see a priest and his wife and children. Father Picherit and the two oldest children came, but Mrs. Bourne chose instead to go to the bedside of her supposed lover.
The Vicksburg Evening Post reported that it was a “pitiable and touching sight” to see the children and the priest kneeling beside the dying man. The scene at the Metzler house was equally tragic as his “gray-haired old parents” stood beside their mortally wounded son.
Both Bourne and Metzler died the day of the shooting. Their funerals were expensive, and both men were buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery. Mary Bourne paid for her husband’s funeral, but records don’t state whether or not she attended.
More than a century later, her descendants found out that family history isn’t necessarily what has been repeated, but stories such as that of Mary Bourne make it a lot more interesting.
Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.
A piece of Vicksburg history is officially no more
WQBC radio was believed to be the oldest radio station in the state of Mississippi. Operating on AM frequency 1420, the call letters were reportedly for the words “We Quote Better Cotton” from radio’s heyday when farm market prices were a staple of daily programming.
The station dates back to 1928 when it was first licensed to Utica. In 1931 the station was purchased by the Cashman family and moved to Vicksburg. FCC rules against cross ownership with a newspaper forced the family to sell the station.
Notable alumni include world renowned blues musician Willie Dixon, Adrian Cronauer, who was the inspiration for the movie “Good Morning Vietnam,” and Woodie Assaf, who cut his teeth in radio before becoming the nation’s longest serving weather man on WLBT.
On Sept. 28, 2020, the last owners, COSTAR Broadcasting, surrendered the license to the Federal Communications Commission.
The station last operated from a studio and tower location on Porter’s Chapel Road. Those facilities have been torn down. With the license surrender, a piece of Vicksburg and Mississippi broadcasting history died along with it.
Marguerite Stegall: the first woman to hold countywide office in Warren County
“I’m thinking of running for the office of tax collector,” the voice on the phone said. “What do you think about this?”
The caller was Marguerite Stegall, a longtime friend. The legislature had separated the office of sheriff and tax collector, which had been state law since the 1890s. The new law took effect in 1971, with the winner taking office in 1972.
Marguerite had plenty of experience. She had majored in office management classes at Southwest Junior College in Summit, and in Vicksburg she had run the office for former Sheriff John Hynes Henderson Jr.
There were many things to think about in the upcoming race, one of which was that a woman had never been elected to countywide office in Warren County. A half-dozen or so men had already stated that they planned to run.
I reminded Marguerite that only one person could win, and then I asked, “Are you prepared to lose? Could you handle defeat?” Her instant reply was, “I’m not going to lose.”
Marguerite was from Gloster, and she married Oree Stegall from Crystal Springs. They moved to Vicksburg where he had an industrial job. He and Marguerite raised two daughters, Sherry and Connie. The girls went to school at Culkin, and the family were members of Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church where Oree was a deacon and Marguerite was church clerk.
The typical, tranquil life all changed when Oree was killed in an industrial accident.
I had never tried my hand before at advertising, but I agreed to handle Marguerite’s ads in the local paper and on the radio.
It was a lively campaign. Most of her male opponents were well-known and popular. There were few doors in Vicksburg and Warren County that weren’t knocked on by Marguerite or her daughters. Things looked good for her, but Charlie Faulk, editor of the Vicksburg Post told me that in a straw pole at the Lions Club, Mrs. Stegall didn’t do very well.
“What do you think of that?” he asked.
My reply: “I don’t think the members of that club are representatives of the voters in Warren County.”
I was right. When the votes were counted for the first primary, Marguerite was the leader, and though she had a runoff vote she almost won in the first primary. She won the election, taking office in January 1972. In future elections she had little opposition winning easily for several terms. Because of health issues she resigned in November 1993, and Pat Simrall was appointed to take her place.
Marguerite served three or four terms and faced little opposition. She made sure her staff were capable and courteous.
No one told her she had to do this, but among the workers was a Black lady, Delores Nichols. Marguerite had simply done the right thing in breaking the color barrier among office personnel.
Marguerite was active in the state organization of tax collectors and was in the lead in persuading the legislature to abandon the practice of a vehicle owner having to buy a new metal tag each year. A small sticker would be a lot less expensive and simply made good sense.
Her efficiency was noted by the state, and she was honored by having the most efficiently-operate tax collector’s office in Mississippi.
I knew Marguerite best through church as we were both members of Shiloh Primitive Baptist on Warriors’ Trail. Most of the congregations of our denomination do not take up collections — we just put money on the alter after services. I was treasurer for a number of years, and others didn’t know it, but Marguerite quietly paid all the utility bills.
I recall a few lighthearted moments. One evening she took several of us to a church meeting in Jackson. Archie Anderson was driving — he was a high school student — and she was giving directions. He just about lost it — as did the rest of us — when Marguerite told him to turn off Highway 55 “onto Fornication Street.” Of course she meant Fortification.
At church we sing a lot — for about 30 minutes with no interruptions — and the hymns are chosen by the congregation. Whatever number is heard gets sung next. Marguerite was always quick with her favorites. Most people have the habit of sitting in the same place each Sunday, and after Marguerite’s death I discovered, in the hymnal holder, a list of her favorite hymns and their numbers. I had to laugh — she had a cheat sheet!
She once gave me good advice concerning a business meeting. If there is any disagreement, have the chair recognize you, and raise your voice an octave and the opposition will usually melt.
When Marguerite died, her daughters asked me to be one of the speakers at her funeral. I don’t recall much of what I said except for my closing remark: If you look up the meaning of public servant, the answer should be Marguerite Stegall.
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