Keep Marching On: Black Greek Organizations Performances on Leon C. Simon Drive

The half mile stretch of Leon C. Simon Drive, that forms the front boundary of the University of New Orleans’s campus, was a central performance space for Black Greek letter organizations in the 1980s and 1990s. The stretch of sidewalk was the sight of “death marches,” artistic and synchronized marches performed by new initiates of Black Greek letter organizations. These marches took place when new members “came out”, announcing their status as official members of their organizations after weeks of studying fraternity/sorority history, organization, and purpose.

Marches brought out huge audiences, many of these onlookers belonged to the UNO community, including members of predominantly White Greek organizations. Marches were a rare instance when predominantly white greek organizations interacted with historically Black Greek organizations. Joan Brown-Staidum, a charter member of Zeta Phi Beta at UNO (a historically Black organization, discussed her death march during an oral history interview conducted with her by the author in 2018:

“...that was the week that you did all the studying, you didn’t come out, you didn’t do, they didn’t see us the whole entire week, until then, until the march.

“The only thing they [predominantly White Greek organizations] came to was when we were going over, we had the death march.”

This stretch of Leon C. Simon Drive was a space where members could be unapologetic and celebrate their membership in organizations that forged bonds between members and provided a support system to uphold them throughout their academic career. This performance officiated and solidified their membership, and conferred their membership into a very important and needed bond.