This New Orleans Funeral Tradition Turns The Streets Into Church

new orleans second line
Briona Lamback
April 20, 2023

Trombones, trumpets, and tubas hum in harmony. “Second Line!” someone yells after peaking out the kitchen window and seeing a parade of Black folks cutting up outside.

Much more than a parade and not quite a party, second lines are a sacred cultural tradition in New Orleans that originated during enslavement, with roots in West Africa, and remain a crucial part of homegoing celebrations today.

The houses along the route transform into the walls of a church as folks flow down the street in a solemn symphony yet a joyous remembrance of life. The second line is the crowd of mourners and community members who follow the first line of the parade, which includes the casket, family, and musicians.

During a second line, sometimes called a jazz funeral, grief is a collective burden shared among the community. Once a salve for enslaved New Orleanins experiencing loss of identity and agency, the second line is now balm for our people dying systemically from anti-Blackness like police brutality and inequitable healthcare.

For many of us, grief has been persistent but communal traditions like second lines, R.I.P. T-shirts, and collective altars allow us to honor those who came before us while carrying each other through loss. 

The Second Line is a beautiful part of Black grief culture and reminds us that no matter the loss, all healing requires community.