• PROOF:
  • February 27, 2015

Decked Out in Sunday’s Best for a New Orleans Second Line

Author
Tyrone Turner

The first time I saw the Original Big Nine Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line parade was on a beautiful Sunday in December 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina. A small group of club members dressed in crisp white suits proudly marched down Forstall Street in their Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. They were whooping it up, shuffling and sliding their feet to the brass band, holding up matching parasols. Empty houses with the spray-painted search-and-rescue X markings formed the backdrop. It was a powerful experience of strength and resilience in the face of disaster.

Picture of members of the second division of the Big Nine lining up for a picture in The Next Stop Lounge before the start of the parade in New Orleans.
Members of the second division of the Big Nine line up for a picture in The Next Stop Lounge before the start of the parade.

The spirit of that day stayed with me. I knew this tradition was something I wanted to revisit as part of my look at New Orleans in the year leading up to the tenth anniversary of the storm. I had met Ronald Lewis, the president and founder of the club, during that trip, so I reached out to him again.

The Sunday of this year’s Big Nine parade, I arrived early at Edwina Waterhouse’s home in the Lower Ninth Ward. She and close friend Sally Jones, both Big Nine veteran members, were putting the finishing touches on their matching suits.

Picture of Kenya Waterhouse, the 'Big Shot' character in the 2014 parade, helped with her suit by her mom, Edwina Waterhouse and her aunt, Carmelita Waterhouse in New Orleans.
Kenya “Nuu Nuu” Waterhouse is helped with her suit by her mom, Edwina Waterhouse, right, and her aunt, Carmelita Waterhouse.

Edwina’s daughter, Kenya “Nuu Nuu” Waterhouse, was dressed as the “Big Shot,” complete with tuxedo and a fat plastic cigar. Family and friends gathered to snap photos. Yellow outfits for the women, burgundy for the men.

Picture of Ka'Yenne Waterhouse, 5, posing for a portrait in full costume of the first division of the Big Nine in New Orleans.
Ka’Yenne Waterhouse, 5, poses for a portrait in full costume of the first division of the Big Nine.

“The term second line comes from when bands used to rehearse on the street … people would say that the band was the first line and the people following the band was the second line. So they called our parade a second line parade,” Lewis explained during our interview.

Picture of Kenya Waterhouse gets some help with her lipstick from close friend and fellow Big Nine member, Sally Jones on the porch of her Lower Ninth Ward home in New Orleans.
On the porch of her Lower Ninth Ward home, Kenya Waterhouse gets some help with her lipstick from close friend and fellow Big Nine member, Sally Jones.

This tradition, distinct from the better known Mardi Gras parades, originated in the benevolent societies of the African American churches in 19th-century New Orleans. Under the oppressive weight of racial segregation, black communities formed their own organizations, also known as social aid and pleasure clubs, pooling resources to pay for things like health insurance and funerals. Their annual parades turned into the second line tradition. Because of the number of clubs in the city, almost every weekend a second line parade rolls somewhere in New Orleans.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, the city’s many second line parades have been important not only to the cultural rebuilding of the city, but also to the physical reconnection of people to their neighborhoods.

Tap your feet to the sights and sounds of the Big Nine second line parade.

“Being here in the Lower Ninth Ward, our community was devastated. Yes, we lost everything … But the people of the Ninth Ward are resilient,” said Lewis. “[After the storm] we didn’t have enough businesses in the community just to stay in the Lower Ninth Ward and parade around … not businesses, not homes … So we had to leave our community to come back to it … and crossing that St. Claude bridge is like Moses leading the people to the Promised Land.” The bridge spans the Industrial Canal, the source of the floodwaters that destroyed Lewis’s community.

Picture of a young man on an elaborately decorated motorcycle along the Big Nine's parade route in New Orleans.
A young man sits on an elaborately decorated motorcycle along the Big Nine’s parade route.
Picture of a man on horseback carrying a boy as they walk into the Lower Ninth Ward after crossing the St. Claude bridge in New Orleans.
A man on horseback carries a boy as they walk into the Lower Ninth Ward after crossing the St. Claude bridge.

The 2006 parade, the first one that they put on after Katrina, was more like a reunion. “Everybody was looking for somebody to pass on information and ask that question: Have you seen this person or that person?” Lewis’s phone number and the House of Dance and Feathers, a neighborhood cultural museum that he founded, became a way station for checking in with the community.

Picture of members of the first division of the Big Nine crossing the St. Claude bridge in New Orleans
Members of the first division of the Big Nine cross the St. Claude bridge. The bridge spans the Industrial Canal, whose levee breach destroyed much of the Lower Ninth Ward.

Back at Edwina’s, once everyone was ready, we climbed into a party bus—no seats, lights flashing, music blaring—and we drove to the starting point of the parade. Sally and Edwina danced and looked out the windows, waving to people on the street. Arriving at the Next Stop Lounge in the Seventh Ward, we stepped into the bar to a crush of Big Nine members. Everyone was making sure they looked “clean”—sharp and polished—before they hit that doorway to the street and the crowds beyond.

Picture of a young man hoisting one of the decorative hand fans and dances as the parade nears the end of the route on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans.
A young parade participant hoists a decorative hand fan and dances as the parade nears the end of the route on St. Claude Avenue.

“You’ve got to take pictures of the people, not just us. Because that’s what makes up the parade. Not just the club. It’s all the interaction of the people and things that are out there to enjoy that event,” said Lewis.

“Showtime,” said Sally, “It’s on!”

***

New Orleans native son Tyrone Turner is revisiting the city he loves throughout the year, checking in on how the people and landscape have healed since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Turner’s look at New Orleans leading up to the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina starts with rebuilding community in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Follow Turner on Instagram, Tumblr, and his website.

There are 5 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Elaine Picot
    October 26, 2015

    I’m so proud to see the Big 9 in this article. And even more proud to be the aunt of the first young lady [Christine Cook] leading out the Parade Members. I love my City.

  2. Aaron collins
    August 23, 2015

    I’ve always wanted to visit new Orleans every since I saw the movie “Let’s Do It Again” that was my movie! Back in the day I still follow the weather there

  3. Cindy Medina
    April 16, 2015

    amazing photos, bring back memories when I had my first Mardi Gras experience this year.Next year, I hope to use his pictures as a guide.He really captured the essence of New Orleans.

  4. Kat
    March 2, 2015

    This is amazing, something I love about this community! They work together! Love these photos!

  5. sally jones
    March 1, 2015

    On fire!!!

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