Note: This is a special bonus One of Many essay to accompany to original New Orleans chapter.
Social Aid clubs were originally founded in the 1800’s as benevolent societies that provided an early form of insurance for the African-American community in a time where they were unable to get it any other way. They hosted events, engaged in charitable work, and handled the cost of burials for those who couldn’t afford it on their own. There are roughly 70 clubs left, including The Sudan Social Aid & Pleasure Club, pictured below, which was founded in 1983.
Later, as more African-American families moved into the local middle and upper class, they expanded their role to include the “pleasure” element, including the now famous Second Line Parades. A few months ago, writer and photographer Pableaux Johnson kindly invited me along to attend a parade, and I can still feel the positive impact of that day in my bones.
Many thanks to the good folks at Squarespace for helping make this project possible. Use the code “oneofmany” to get a 10% discount, and you’ll be supporting One of Many in a small way.
In the early days of New Orleans, colonial soldiers would march downtown from their barracks. They were accompanied by military bands, and followed by kids and family members forming a “second line” to the soldiers’ first. Long after the soldiers left, the tradition of these parades has survived. These days, it’s Social Clubs that form the first line, with the audience behind them in a second line. Together they form a life-affirming celebration of life and community.
Before we made our way to the Treme Center, from which the parade would leave, Pableaux shared a few of his insights on the do’s and don’ts of photographing a second line. His advice was steeped in a deep respect for the culture of New Orleans and the Social Aid Clubs. It was about being invisible and out of the way, about respecting the ropes used to separate the parade from the audience. He invoked a hummingbird floating in and out, spoke of reaching a zone where you anticipated where to be to catch the next thing. He was right about everything.
The young boys who headed up the parade were proud, playful and strong. Young royalty, guided by the older men who were passing on their knowledge. There was a firm hand, and a loose laughter, as they made their way through the streets. Dancing, entertaining, playing. Some boys were more introverted than others, focusing on their own experience. Others hammed it up, responding to excited squeals and encouragement from the crowds.
Bernard Robertson (below, left and bottom) is one of the founders of The Sudan Social Aid & Pleasure Club, and its current chairman-at-arms. His presence and charisma could be felt throughout the parade as he made his way from front to back. Mr. Robertson felt like a leader, before I was told that he was.
The gentleman in the wheelchair (below, right) had a commanding presence as well. At one point, he was helped out of his wheelchair and danced horizontally while laying on the concrete with various others around him taking part in what felt like a ritual of pride and strength.
Every member seemed to have a specialty, from hat tricks, to umbrella-assisted dance moves, rhythmic percussion, or direction via whistle.
Roderick “Scubble” Davis (below) saw his first Second Line while he was in elementary school. He felt a calling and his mother, a Second Liner herself, signed him up for a club. Ever since, Roderick has been dancing until his shoes fall apart, every weekend. He won’t miss a Second Line, hell or high water. He calls himself a footwork junkie, as he focuses on finesse and rhythm, rather than the pure power of his youth. He has learned to pace himself, and as such, has become a far better dancer and somewhat of a celebrity of Second Lines. He’s the people’s champ.
All along both sides of the parade are men holding a rope that separates the parade from the watching crowds. This allows the dancers the room they need to truly express themselves. But it sure doesn’t mean that the crowds don’t get into it either.
Even though there is a rope separating the crowd from the parade, there are some that have earned the privilege to jump in and showcase their own moves. Others still, are working towards that place.
By the time the parade was over, I was exhausted in the most exhilarating way. I had no idea if one hour had passed, or four. Overstimulated by sounds and sights, I ran around while the sun beat down on us. Soon into the parade, I gave up the hope to capture everything, and acquiesced into just experiencing it. I shot when I could, knowing this would not be the last second line I’d attend.
This was a special bonus One of Many essay to accompany the original New Orleans chapter.
|| More To Read and See ||
|| Visit oneofmany.co for the story behind this project, and information on upcoming cities and essays.
|| Find more photos on Instagram and by searching the hashtag #oneofmanyNewOrleans
|| Find outtakes on Tumblr, published on a regular basis.
|| A list of my favorite restaurants and shops in New Orleans (LA) is available on Foursquare.
PREVIOUS ESSAY: New Orleans, LA Pt. 1 - Published May 19th, 2015
NEXT ESSAY: Seattle, WA - To be published June 29, 2015
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