SEVERE WX : Flood Warning View Alerts

Zulu's storied history symbolizes Mardi Gras for African Americans worldwide

From the Mardi Gras Indians to the Flambeaux carriers to the skeleton crews, the contribution of African Americans to...

Posted: Feb 13, 2018 9:03 PM
Updated: Feb 13, 2018 9:03 PM

From the Mardi Gras Indians to the Flambeaux carriers to the skeleton crews, the contribution of African Americans to traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras is evident. But nothing compares to the flash and flair of Zulu.

"It symbolizes Mardi Gras for the African American community across the world," said Zulu President Naaman Stewart. "Everybody that comes to Mardi Gras wants a Zulu coconut, and they'll do just about anything to get it."

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is known as much for its elaborate coconuts as it is for community service and bringing people together. Members are also responsible for what could be the largest formal African American affair in the country -- the Zulu Ball.

Zulu's roots trace back to the days of segregation, when black people weren't allowed to be in other Mardi Gras krewes.

The masks of Zulu are strikingly similar to the "blackface makeup" once popularized by the minstrel shows of old. In fact, Louis Armstrong faced backlash from the Civil Rights community when he wore the makeup as King of Zulu in 1949.

But to understand the Zulu makeup, you have to know the history.

In the early 1900s, social aid and pleasure clubs were a popular mechanism for improving day-to-day life in the African American community. One of these clubs, the Tramps, went to the Pythian Temple in 1909 to see a play titled "There Never Was and Never Will Be a King Like Me."

The play was based loosely off of the Zulu ethnic group in Africa. When the Tramps walked out, they were no longer tramps, but Zulu warriors instead.

When they formed the Zulu parade krewe, the city required all krewe members to wear masks. Zulu members had limited resources -- and theatrical inspiration. Thus, the Zulu tradition was born.

"Some people assume that it was blackface make up, when what it was was ash," Stewart said.

From the coconuts to the balls to lending a helping hand behind the scenes, the Zulu organization has revolutionized Mardi Gras participation for the New Orleans African American community.

Zulu rolls at 8 a.m. Mardi Gras day along the Uptown route.

Article Comments

Mason City
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 72°
Albert Lea
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 70°
Austin
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 70°
Charles City
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 68°
Rochester
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 62°
Showers coming back for the work week.
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

${article.thumbnail.title}

Storm Team 3: After heavy rain this weekend, more is on the way

Image

Ride to Fight Suicide hopes to prevent suicide

Image

Bridgeport Marina Projects looks to make Albert Lea safer

Image

Famous potato raises money for Rochester Flyers

Image

Dog attack in Mason City

Image

Mason City man attacked by dog

Image

SX Weather Cutin June 15

Image

Cutin June 15

${article.thumbnail.title}

Storm Team 3: Severe storms possible this afternoon and evening

Image

Williamson heads to Mariners

Community Events