Nearly every room in Ed Buckner’s house on Elysian Fields Avenue was scattered with silver and royal-blue parade streamers and feathered fans on Friday, when he received a shocking Fed Ex letter.
The letter, from an Atlanta law firm, was addressed to the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which Buckner leads.
On Sunday, the club will hold its annual Mother’s Day second-line parade, starting at Buckner’s house and disbanding near the mixed-income housing development now called Columbia Parc.
In recent days, pants have been hemmed, shirts ironed and shoes shined to prepare for the parade.
But the letter from Atlanta outlined “serious concerns” about the procession.
“Please be advised that Columbia Parc intends to hold your organization liable for any and all property and other damages caused by the second-line,” it read.
Buckner, 56, first got wind that something was amiss a few weeks ago, when the New Orleans Police Department notified him that his parade could not pass through the Columbia Parc development.
That meant Buckner’s parade would not be able to pay homage on Senate Street to Herbert Miles, 79, an ailing club member who retired after spending his life as a maintenance engineer at the former St. Bernard public housing complex, Columbia Parc’s predecessor.
It meant the parade would not be able to pass by the corner of Gibson and Milton streets, where the club was started 20 years ago by a washboard player known as Dirty Rice, along with three other residents: June Snyder, Alton Green and Joann Andrews.
It meant Buckner could not parade by the block on Senate Street where he grew up or lead his club through the streets that were home to children he has coached for 30 years as a volunteer football coach at nearby Willie Hall Playground.
Buckner, upset, called city and police officials, who quickly ironed out the matter and reinstated the parade’s traditional route.
Then came Friday’s letter.
Buckner shook his head and pointed to the Atlanta address. “They don’t understand New Orleans culture,” he said, citing the letter’s first six complaints, about inaccessible streets, litter and the behavior of “parade revelers” who the letter said block entrances and parking spaces, leave litter, harm landscaping and dance along the housing development’s railings and porches.
While efforts to reach Columbia Parc administrators were unsuccessful, a source close to the situation said he believed that throwing of glass bottles was also part of the problem and that a second-line crowd that may top 1,000 people simply seemed too large for the development’s narrower streets.
Buckner, an avid gardener, pledged that his club members would get on their knees and replant any petunia beds that are disrupted by his parade, though he hasn’t witnessed that type of behavior, he said. And while he will keep an eye out for anything that could be deemed trespassing, the people whom he saw dancing on front porches in the past were dancing alongside Columbia Parc residents who heard the music and came outside, he said. “Automatically, if you hear that beat in New Orleans, you move,” he said.
Buckner was particularly offended by the letter’s seventh point, which expressed concern about residents’ safety “due to the 2013 mass shooting at the parade,” in which two men shot into a crowd of spectators, wounding 19 people.
“No one, not the FBI, the NOPD or the courts that sentenced the shooters, has said that the Original Big 7 had anything at all to do with that,” Buckner said.
Also, he said, the leaders of Muses or Rex don’t get such letters after a shooting during one of their parades or when Uptown residents are inconvenienced during Carnival season.
A written statement from the city seemed to support Buckner’s contentions.
“This is the traditional route for the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club … familiar to residents, club members and the NOPD,” mayoral press secretary Hayne Rainey said. “Our expectation is that the permitted parade (will) follow the route on these public streets.”
Each Mother’s Day, the Big 7 returns to those streets to dance for mothers like Buckner’s, who walked two miles each day to work as a baker at John F. Kennedy High School, as well as other parents, coaches and mentors who helped create today’s New Orleans.
“You can’t take the spirit from the land,” Buckner said. “And until the day I die, the Big 7 will celebrate the spirit that remains here.”