By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – We are in full Mardi Gras season here in Louisiana with nearly every city and community in the state hosting parades every weekend until the close of the season in a couple of weeks. In New Orleans, of course, the parades are daily.
We attended the Krewe of Centaur parade last night and were fortunate enough to have beautiful spring-like weather and clear skies. An old friend of mine lives on the parade route and so while the kids played touch football in the front yard (and dodged the blazing firepits) the adults grazed on fried catfish, king cake, and a large assortment of dips, salsas, cheeses and lots of adult beverages. It’s like a huge, extended tailgate party all along the route, with live bands, blaring music of all kinds, and children who take advantage of the closed streets and ride scooters and skateboards in and out of the throngs of people walking down the street in the most outrageous costumes and apparel ever seen. After the parade we staggered home with probably 40 pounds of beads, stuffed animals, and plastic cups. Great fun!
And so while we are all celebrating and reveling down here, it is worth noting that not even Mardi Gras krewes are immune to attack from the politically correct left and the delusional mind of Malcolm Suber, our old friend from Take ‘Em Down NOLA and one of those who spearheaded the destruction of the New Orleans Confederate monuments.
The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club was founded in 1909; they first marched in Mardi Gras in 1901; they have a well-researched history:
The earliest signs of organization came from the fact that the majority of these men belonged to a Benevolent Aid Society. Benevolent Societies were the first forms of insurance in the Black community where, for a small amount of dues, members received financial help when sick or financial aid when burying deceased members.
Conversations and interviews with older members also indicate that in that era the city was divided into wards, and each ward had its own group or “Club.” The Tramps were one such group. After seeing the skit, they retired to their meeting place (a room in the rear of a restaurant/bar in the 1100 block of Perdido Street), and emerged as Zulus. This group was probably made up of members from the Tramps, the Benevolent Aid Society and other ward-based groups.
While the “Group” marched in Mardi Gras as early as 1901, their first appearance as Zulus came in 1909, with William Story as King.
The group wore raggedy pants, and had a Jubilee-singing quartet in front of and behind King Story. His costume of “lard can” crown and “banana stalk” scepter has been well documented.
And reportedly, as the men could not afford masks, they painted their faces with black makeup. During the Civil Rights era the club’s membership dwindled as their practice of black makeup and grass skirts was perceived as demeaning, but over the years the club has grown quite large. The krewe is known for their prized painted coconuts that they distribute along the parade route.
Perhaps Malcom Suber is disgruntled because he never got a Golden Coconut, so now he is calling on the Zulu krewe to abandon their “blackface” makeup:
“We seem to have a group in the city that is stuck in the last century,” Malcolm Suber, one of Take ’Em Down Nola’s organizers, said during a press conference across from Zulu’s North Broad Street clubhouse.
The activity drew the attention of club members who filed outside to face off against those who no longer want them to paint their faces.
“I think they’re intelligent men, and I think they’re gonna heed to our suggestions to take it off,” said one protester who carried a sign that read “Take It Off.”
The krewe members were nonplussed:
“I ain’t taking it off,” responded one Zulu member who held face paint in his hand. He and a handful of other members then painted their faces. Minutes later, a brass band rounded the corner at Orleans Avenue, and Zulu members and their friends danced in the street.
Scott McKay, writing at The Hayride, pairs this story with that of Gov. Bill Lee of TN who has come under attack for wearing a Confederate uniform to an Old South fraternity party decades ago, and makes this point:
Here’s hoping that all of us who find value in our history and culture – and the diversity of experiences that culture contains, not to mention the positive lessons we may draw from them – may ally against the Malcolm Subers who would bowdlerize them.
Amen to that.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.