Club members and performers march during the Divine Ladies Social Aid and Pleasure Club ‘second line’ parade on May 17, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Traditional second line parades are put on by social aid and pleasure clubs organized by neighborhood in New Orleans.
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)
America's Blackest CityFor Black History Month, we asked writers to explain why they think their hometown, current residence or notable place deserves the title of America’s Blackest City by defining a city’s history, music, cuisine, notable figures, and cultural touchstone/unique black fact.  

This year, America will commemorate 400 years when the first slaves were forced onto this land in 1619.

When considering the experiences of our people in this country, I can only think of one city that can tie together all our attributes: history, music, cuisine, influential leaders, cultural landmarks and information that is unique to us.

New Orleans.

When you consider that some of the first slaves who came to the region set the tone—from settling America’s oldest black neighborhood, Treme (the real, not the TV show) in 1783, where black folks bought land and homes on a regular basis, to Congo Square, where, according to city law, blacks could congregate to play music, dance and sell goods in the marketplace to having a place of worship like Saint Augustine Catholic Church, which is the oldest black parish in America when founded in 1841.

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Footwork originated from communication-based dances that were performed on Sunday in Congo Square.

Jazz, second line music, the drum patters in both call-and-response are all original elements of what influenced of the hip-hop sounds of today.

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We are the birthplace of jazz and gospel, led by Louie Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson. Their influences along with the traditions learned in Congo Square are still felt today.

As local musician Dion Norman describes, hip-hop started in New York City but used samples from the Meters, also known as the Funk Meters, who formed in 1965. Their signature song, “They Ask’d For You,” became a regional favorite and “Cissy Strut” and “Look-ka Py Py” are known funk classics. New Orleans hip-hop implemented both hip-hop and the original New Orleans music created by the slaves and free blacks in Congo square, which led to the creation of bounce music.

You remember bounce went mainstream 20 years ago when we gave the world Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up,” which your momma, baby daddy, the crazy uncles, grandmas and cuzins were backing it up to.

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The city is home to musical legends from the Marsalis family to the Neville Brothers to Fats Domino to Terence Blanchard to today’s influencers: Master P, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne, Manny Fresh and Juvenile. The Miami bass scene of the ’90s and Dirty South music formed in Atlanta have deep influences from the sounds created from New Orleans musicians. Remember, it originated from the music created in the 504 back in Congo Square, located in what is now Louis Armstrong Park.

Hey, what other city can pull off taking Anita Baker’s ballad “No One In the World” and turning it into a line dance for all of us to get our grove on?

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Speaking of Atlanta, every thing from Tyler Perry basically showcases that city in his movies. You better recognize—those skills came from where? I will let you guess, hmmm.

Yes, Atlanta is the adoptive home of former Mayor Andrew Young, but he was born and raised in our fair city.

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When you visit New Orleans, the vibrant arts and architecture scene is something you can’t miss. Walk down historic O.C. Haley Boulevard to see the colorful murals. Also, you should travel to Old Bayou Road, where in the 1800s free people of color were inspired to gather. Today, its an area filled with black-owned businesses.

As of this writing, it is Mardi Gras season and droves of people are flocking to the city to party and just lettin’ loose to the music supplied by our marching bands.

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But if you really want to learn more about how influential blacks are during this period of revelry, stop by The Backstreet Cultural Museum to check out the collections of American societal traditions such as jazz funerals, the Mardi Gras Indians and social aid and pleasure clubs.

When you’re tired of walking, you need to experience the best food in the land, where places such as Dooky Chase continues the traditions of creole and soul food inspired from our past. Since 1946, the establishment has been a place where civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahalia Jackson and James Baldwin would strategize to help push the movement. Leah Chase is still cooking in the kitchen, so you better be hungry. You can also eat at spots such as the Praline Connection, Dunbar’s and Lil Dizzy’s Café, which is owned by the Baquet family, who have been a fixture in the community. Oh, by the way, we have influence in the media as a family member, Dean Baquet, is the first African-American executive editor at the New York Times.

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New Orleans also boasts the only black and Catholic institution in the nation—Xavier University of Louisiana. (Full disclosure, I am an alum and Dion Norman and I were classmates). If you go to a pharmacy in the city, most likely that pharmacist is an XU grad. And we have the tradition of being at the top for preparing black undergraduates for medical school.

You talk about festivals and celebrations: How many black people you see coming to the Crescent City in the middle of the summer, sweating out their hair in the humidity so they can recharge, get inspired and then listen to some of the best musicians in the world at Essence Fest, which is celebrating its 25th year?

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You talk about the combination of sports, music and culture; since 1974, the Bayou Classic between Southern University and Grambling State University has been a crown jewel of black college football with its Battle of the Bands and since 1990, has become a Thanksgiving weekend tradition in the city.

We love, love our New Orleans Saints. Who Dat Nation is passionate and dedicated to their team.

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It is the tradition of our black communities to share with our fellow man after Saints games, win or lose; we will feed our opponents red beans and rice and gumbo at tail gates and send them home with a smile. Oh, and we love to troll our NFC rival Atlanta Falcons, too.

“New Orleans is the blackest city because it’s the Mecca that led to the Harlem Renaissance, is the birth place of jazz, the chitlin circuit and the creative birth of bounce music starting with DJ Jimi and all of the New Orleans natives to follow,” Norman said.

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I can’t say it any better.

Oh yeah, we have a sister who became the first woman ever elected mayor in its 300-year history and her name is LaToya Cantrell.

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Can’t get any blacker than that. Right, 28 to 3? Oops, I mean Atlanta.