More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Labor Day

About Labor Day and the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club:

Labor Day means—labor, to work, to get busy, and try to do something with your hands for yourself. You can do it, and get this work back again, the way it used to be. And get you a job. Try to learn something, you know. That's what Labor Day is representing, really—the people that's doing all the laboring work. . . . [The Black Men of Labor parade] involves all working people, you know, and really to be a member of their parade you have to have a job 'cause it costs a nice little taste, see. So it's really fulfilling. It is working people. There is no bums in that parade at all.

Did you see that parade honoring World War II [the opening ceremony of the National D-Day Museum]? That's the type of parade they used to have on Labor Day, it strung across the street, you know. . . . And Labor Day with the black laborers—like I said, all the guys are tradespeople—they'd have one big parade. And they all would have buttons and, like plasterers normally they wear white, the hod carriers wear white overalls—different—the longshoremen would have overalls, blue overalls, the type of the clothes that they work in, but new. And you'd have a big parade on Labor Day that went on years ago and I don't know why that didn't continue, how they lost that.

Labor Day is just another day now, but we used to have picnics all over when we was young, man. Claiborne Street, when it was Claiborne, people have tables and cooking food out there. We went to dances where you had the big bands—Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins; all those people used to come here. Like Labor Day would be a big picnic all day and dances and all. Yeah, Labor Day was a day I used to have a lot of fun, man, when I was coming up.

--Allison "Tootie" Montana, Lather

Labor Day was one of the subjects researched as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.