2020 has already been a difficult year, and on top of that, New Orleans yesterday lost another one of its major culture-bearers.
On August 22, news broke on Twitter that Fred Parker passed away. But for thousands of Black New Orleanians, Mr. Parker went by a different name – “Chocolate Santa.”
Charisse Gibson, of WWLTV, tweeted of his passing and significance.
“If you grew up in New Orleans, you knew who Santa Claus REALLY was and you knew he was from the 7th wd,” she wrote. “I’ve, unfortunately, confirmed with a family member [that] Mr. Fred Parker has passed away.”
If you grew up in New Orleans, you knew who Santa Claus REALLY was and you knew he was from the 7th wd. I’ve, unfortunately, confirmed with a family member Mr. Fred Parker has passed away. Thank you for the precious memories and for being a true reflection of the community. pic.twitter.com/D9nBDdB4Pk
— Charisse Gibson (@OkayCharisse) August 23, 2020
Local Twitter immediately reacted. Mr. Parker, who played the role of Santa for 50 years in New Orleans, impacted uncounted New Orleans natives. Families of multiple generations have taken their photos with Mr. Parker.
In one post, Twitter user @neworleanstl invited users to post their photos with “Chocolate Santa.” Nearly 200 Twitter users responded with childhood photos – and even their children’s photos – with Mr. Parker.
If you have a picture with 7th Ward Santa drop it 💔🕊 pic.twitter.com/qmrwtm0SRq
— 🆕 Orleans ⚜️witter (@neworleanstl) August 23, 2020
The cultural context of Mr. Parker’s significance cannot be denied. Mr. Parker stood in opposition to traditional American mythical representations that use whiteness as default. He served as a character who inspires awe and cheer to children around the world, and he looked like them.
In December 2017, Vice News aired a brief documentary about Mr. Parker, entitled “Santa is a Black Man and He Lives in New Orleans.”
Other prominent New Orleans figures spoke about the loss of Mr. Parker. Mayor Cantrell mourned his passing, stating that he “was a beloved part of Christmas for so many families in NOLA. She tweeted a Christmas photoshoot of her family with Mr. Parker.
Sheba Turk, a New Orleans native, called him “one of my favorite makers of a New Orleans childhood.”
Other New Orleans mothers expressed regret that their children could no longer visit the “7th Ward Santa.”
Twitter user Ms. Jane lamented that her daughter was supposed to take a photo with Mr. Parker this Christmas.
Chocolate Santa Passed Away 😭😭 My Daughter Was Supposed To Take A Picture With Him This Year! Uhhh My Heart 💔 Such A Sweet Man
— Ms. Jane✈™ (@Jet_Setter_Life) August 23, 2020
Another user expressed sorrow that she would have to tell her children that Santa was no longer with them.
Mr. Fred Parker got his start posing for children at Dennis Photofinish at the corner of St. Bernard Ave. and North Tonti Street in the Seventh Ward, according to WWL. He worked there for 50 years, but he expanded his reach to numerous local elementary and preschools.
What moved Mr. Parker to persevere in such an altruistic field for five decades? According to an interview with WWL, he was inspired by love for others.
“I love bringing joy to people,” Mr. Parker told WWL in 2016. “That’s my job – bring joy to the world, as much as I can.”
“Kids come to me about ‘Where does Santa come from?’ and I tell them Santa comes from the heart,” he said in that same interview. “As long as you love people, your Christmas can be every day.”