By: Tony R. McCray
Last Sunday a new and innovative voice of protest was added the historic preservation of the John Sunday home. Mobile’s Excelsior Band added the musical voice of its instruments and approximately one hundred preservation advocates marched behind them in the famous New Orleans Second Line from St. Joseph Catholic Church to the demolished Sunday House at 302 West Romana Street. The Second Line Parade was in contrast to the angry and sad feelings in the overall community and more specifically the upset and hurt feelings of the African-American community.
Many feel that the demolition was a purposeful smack in the face of the Sunday legacy and Black historical preservation. The demolition came several weeks after Charles Liberis, the developer, spoke with the Pensacola Voice. During that interview, the developer stated, “I have no desire to see the Sunday House destroyed. In fact, I would like to see it moved to a site where it can serve as an asset to the community”! That story was published during the second week in July and the demolition took place during the last week in July.
Pearl Perkins and relatives led parade-goers from St. Joseph Catholic Church — built on land once owned by Sunday — to the heap of wood, bricks, and other rubble at 302 West Romana Street, where the once-stately Sunday House stood until recently. Charred timbers are still visible in the pile, evidence of a mysterious fire in the 1930s which burned out the home’s last black residents.
It’s not every day you see a second line in Pensacola, Fla. The venerable tradition is more closely associated with New Orleans, where the participatory parades celebrate funerals, weddings, and everything in between.
Sunday built the house, which was located at Reus and Romana streets, in 1901 and lived there until his death in 1925. It was demolished in July after a months-long grassroots effort to save the house came up short, with attorney and developer Charles Liberis using the court system to bypass the city’s historical preservation process. Liberis plans to build 27 townhomes on the 1.5-acre site.
There, the band’s proud, defiant music was almost enough to drown out the sound of the industrial sprinklers keeping the heap constantly wet to prevent hazardous asbestos fibers from going airborne. Days after the house was razed, Maverick Demolition was cited by state environmental officials after investigators found potential asbestos violations at the site.
Mobile’s Excelsior Band led parade-goers from St. Joseph Catholic Church — built on land once owned by Sunday — to the heap of wood, bricks, and other rubble at 302 West Romana Street, where the once-stately Sunday House stood until recently. Charred timbers are still visible in the pile, evidence of a mysterious fire in the 1930s which burned out the home’s last black residents.
New Orleans’ second line tradition is named for the revelers that fell in behind the musicians and other official “first line” paraders, forming a “second line” at the rear. An amalgam of military-style brass band parades and the traditional dance and music brought to the city by enslaved Africans; second lines have become a staple of New Orleans culture, with parades taking place nearly every Sunday of the year.
“This second line is our way to celebrate and remember John Sunday and his legacy,” said Teníadé Broughton, one of the organizers of the second line and vice president of the John Sunday Society. “While he was known in pockets of the community, we are resurrecting the John Sunday story, from being hidden or erased and introducing him to the public and future generations. We want to make sure he’s never forgotten again.”
“There’s a proverb that says, until lions have their own historians the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter,” added Broughton. “The John Sunday Society are lions.”