When you have a chance, take a look at the intersection of the Metro Parkway and John R. Lynch Street on Google Maps. When looking at the intersection in map view, you’ll see a large chunk of green space labeled with College Park. Now, if you go to that same intersection in person, no park will be seen; but about 60 years ago, a park existed in that space that West Jackson resident Roger Smith remembers being equipped with a swimming pool, play ground, two baseball fields, a basketball court, clubhouse, and miniature golf near Eastview Street. There was also a water tank in this park that kids–being kids–would climb to get a bird’s eye view of the nearby botanical gardens and the rest of Jackson.
It was in this park that College Park Auditorium was built as a civic center for African Americans. Jackson State University’s undergraduate catalog describes this venue as follows:
[This facility] was originally dedicated as College Park Auditorium on March 9, 1952, served as a Civic Center for Jackson’s Negro community. The 201,200 square footage building housed a branch of the municipal library, basketball court, dance floor, dressing rooms, administrative officers and a 2,500 capacity auditorium. Ownership was transferred to Jackson State University in 1978, at which time the building was renamed University Park Auditorium. Renovated in 1993, the building now houses the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art. It contains faculty offices, an administrative suite, a conference room, a Speech and Hearing Center, eight therapy rooms, an audiological booth, three classrooms, a scene shop, a green room, a costume room, two dressing rooms (men and women), a 1,500-seat auditorium, an orchestra pit and a concession booth. It is used for University and approved community activities. A minimal fee may be charged to organizations not directly affiliated with the University.
College Park Auditorium (now Rose E. McCoy Auditorium) hosted national acts such as Nat King Cole, was a venue for local musicians to shine on Saturdays from noon until five in the 1950s, hosted the first member of a president’s cabinet to speak in Jackson (Robert Weaver, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1966), and most recently, hosted President Barack Obama while he was a candidate for his current office.
Thanks for participating in today’s trivia! We’ll see you next week!