Gone, not forgotten: Natchez Civil Rights activist Grennell dies at 81 – Mississippi’s Greatest Group Newspaper

NATCHEZ – Jonathan Wickliffe Grennell Jr., who died Wednesday at the age of 81, has disappeared but is not forgotten by the many people whose lives he has touched.

Jonathan Grennell is the father of former Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell and was an active participant in the Natchez civil rights movement.

His name is engraved on the stone of the Proud to Stand a Stand monument in front of the Natchez City Auditorium. More than 400 other people were wrongly detained for a civil rights demonstration in October 1965.

“I can imagine how lucky he was to be alive to see this memorial in her honor,” said Alderwoman Valencia Hall, who lived next to the Grennell family.

“His loss is a great loss to this community. … Many of us have lived through the civil rights movement, but he was one who actually went to Parchman and suffered the ordeal for his children and grandchildren. “

Darryl Grennell said his father was also a member of a secret civil rights group known as the Black Dot Club that would transport Freedom Riders to and from Natchez to help black citizens register to vote.

One of the Freedom Riders Jonathan Grennell rode was Congressman John Lewis, Grennell said.

When Lewis got to Natchez, members of the Natchez Ku Klux Klan planned to kill him, and Jonathan Grennell – a racing driver – got him safely out of town, Grennell said.

“I later met Congressman John Lewis in Washington and he said, ‘Tell your father you saved my life,” Grennell said.

Jonathan Grennell “wasn’t the type” who wanted to be at the forefront of the civil rights movement but was happy to serve behind the scenes in every capacity imaginable, putting his own life at risk in the process, Grennell said.

Jonathan Grennell replaced Wharlest Jackson as treasurer of the Natchez NAACP after Jackson was murdered by a car bomb in 1967.

Jonathan Grennell was also talented as a welder, mechanic, musician, and businessman, and his children followed in his footsteps. He was the first black man to work as a supervisor at the Johns Manville plant in Natchez, Darryl Grennell said.

His family also owned a mechanic’s shop on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Woodlawn Avenue, which later housed the handcrafted Scent From Natchez soap shop run by his daughter Ann Grennell Heard.

YZ Ealey said he and his brothers Melwin and Theodis played in a band with Jonathan Grennell, Freddie B. Shannon, James Tobes Smith and AJ Reed after Ealey returned from four years of service in the United States Navy in 1955.

“It was before the civil rights movement really got going,” Ealey said, adding that everyone was still separate at the time.

Ealey said Jonathan Grennell played the trumpet and Reed played the saxophone and together they were “a great couple on the pipes”.

“We played all over the Miss-Lou,” he said. “We were the house band and ‘Haney’s Big House’ (in Ferriday) from 1960 to 1963. We opened up for names like BB King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Larry Birdsong and many other big-time bands.”

Ealey said he and Jonathan Grennell were “as close as brothers”. They met as classmates when Ealey moved from St. Mary Catholic School in Laurel Hill to St. Francis in Natchez in 1951, he said.

“We had good times together,” said Ealey. “I did as much for him as my brothers, and he did the same for me. This is how we have been from elementary school over the years. He was kind and firm in what he said, and a pleasant, amiable man who played his instrument well. We loved each other very much. “

Jonathan Grennell was also known for his generous personality and sometimes refused to accept pay for his work, said Chesney Doyle, who worked with Darryl Grennell as part of his mayoral campaign.

“It was one of the great privileges of my life to meet the Grennell family through my friendship and working relationship with Darryl Grennell,” she said. “Jonathan was the patriarch of a really incredible family. It is mainly because of who he was and what his experience was that he and his lovely wife, Renza, who was a school teacher, were able to raise a legacy from children who did wonderful things for this community – a legacy of love and service. “

Darryll Grennell said his father welded irons for baptismal fonts in churches and did chores here and there for family and friends.

“It wasn’t a profit. He would help people with the cost of materials, ”said Grennell. “He has helped so many people in this church. Sometimes he forgot the things he did to help others, but the people he helped never forget. “

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