Black Men of Labor celebrate 20th anniversary in style

They stood on sidewalks Sunday afternoon and spilled into the streets of Treme to see the Black Men of Labor, clad in maroon hats and pants and brightly colored vests, as they strutted and danced to the music of the Treme Brass Band to celebrate the second-lining organization’s 20th anniversary.

They started their march about 2:30 at Sweet Loraine’s Jazz Club on St. Claude Avenue and embarked on a route that took them eight stops, including Little People’s Place, Candle Light Lounge, Herbert Jones Fruit Stand and Seal’s Class Act.

At the biggest stop of the second line, Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy at Basin and North Robertson streets, hundreds of people lined the streets with barbecue and make-shift bars, pouring drinks, socializing, eating and dancing as the colorfully clad marchers approached.

Bruce Thomas, a chairman of the Krewe of Zulu, said he has attended the second line for the past 15 years. And while he likes the music, he said the most important thing about this parade is the dress.

“My favorite part is waiting to see their uniforms,” he said. “From the hats on their head to the alligator leather shoes on their feet they do it right every year.”

Todd Dominique Higgins, a member of the Black Men of Labor, said this year’s uniforms were specially made with fabric ordered from Ghana.

“We ordered 800 yards of fabric in January from the motherland to make our uniforms for the 20th anniversary,” Higgins said. “We’ve had a great day . . . with beautiful weather. It’s all about keeping the traditions of jazz music alive in this city, and this has been an unbelievable turnout. We are so impressed.”

Ellis Joseph, a bass drummer who leads the Free Agents Brass Band, joined to play with the Treme Brass Band for their anniversary celebration.

“I’ve played with Treme Brass Band off and on for the past few years,” Joseph said. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything. To see the reaction we get from the people when we play the traditional jazz music, it’s what we feed off. It’s the best feeling. It’s what it’s all about”

With its roots in Treme, America’s oldest registered historic African-American neighborhood, and members ranging in age from 25 to 80, the Black Men of Labor was founded in 1993 by Fred J. Johnson Jr., Benny Jones Sr. and Gregory Stafford. The group’s mission is to pay tribute to the contributions of African-American men in the work place and to preserve the traditional jazz music of New Orleans, all while dressed in impeccable style.