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Zulu takes center stage at Carnival festivities

27th February 2017   ·   0 Comments

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, a historically Black carnival krewe that dates back to the early days of the 20th century when segregation ruled and the City That Care Forgot routinely held separate Black and white Carnival festivities for its residents, has stood the test of time to become a fan favorite every Fat Tuesday. But when it comes to telling Zulu’s rich story, that introduction barely scratches the surface.

It is a story worth telling over and over again.

It all started in New Orleans’ famed Seventh Ward.

Layout 1In 1908, John L. Metoyer and members of a New Orleans mutual aid society called “The Tramps” attended a vaudevillian comedy show called “There Never Was and Never Will Be a King Like Me.” The musical comedy performed by the “Smart Set” at the Pythian Temple Theater on the corner of Gravier and Saratoga in New Orleans, included a skit where the characters wore grass skirts and dressed in blackface. Metoyer became inspired by the skit and reorganized his marching troupe from baggy pant-wearing tramps to a new group called the “Zulus.” In 1909, Metoyer and the first Zulu king, William Story, wore a lard-can crown and carried a banana stalk as a scepter. Six years later in 1915, the first decorated platform was constructed with dry goods boxes on a spring wagon. The King’s float was decorated with tree moss and palmetto leaves.

In 1916, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club became incorporated where the organization’s bylaws were established as well as its social mission and dedication to benevolence and goodwill.

In 1933, the Lady Zulu Auxiliary was formed by the wives of Zulu members, and in 1948, Edwina Robertson became the first Queen of Zulu, making the club the first to feature a queen in a parade.

In the 1960s, membership dwindled as a result of social pressures from civil rights activists. The protesters advertised in the local Black community’s newspaper The Louisiana Weekly stating:

“We, the Negroes of New Orleans, are in the midst of a fight for our rights and for a recognition of our human dignity which underlies those rights. Therefore, we resent and repudiate the Zulu Parade, in which Negroes are paid by white merchants to wander through the city drinking to excess, dressed as uncivilized savages and throwing cocoanuts like monkeys. This caricature does not represent Us. Rather, it represents a warped picture against us. Therefore, we petition all citizens of New Orleans to boycott the Zulu Parade. If we want respect from others, we must first demand it from ourselves.”

The krewe, with the support of the mayor and police chief, refused to fall from pressures and continued to parade, but gave up blackfacing, wearing grass skirts and kept the identity of the king secret. Due to continued pressures, by 1965, there were only 15 Zulu members remaining. The membership of local civil rights leaders Ernest J. Wright and Morris F.X. Jeff Sr. into Zulu eventually lifted tensions and membership started to increase and the krewe resumed their old traditions, including blackface.

In 1973, Roy E. “Glap” Glapion Jr., Zulu president from 1973–1988, started recruiting professionals, educators, and prominent businessmen from all ethnic backgrounds to fill its membership – making Zulu the first parading organization to racially integrate.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is well known to parade-goers for throwing coconuts, called the Golden Nugget, to the crowd. In the early 1900s, other parading organizations threw fancy handmade glass necklaces that were expensive. The working men of Zulu could not afford such expensive throws but still wanted to give a special prize to lucky parade-goers. The men decided to purchase coconuts from the French Market because they were different and inexpensive. Painted and adorned coconuts became popular with the club starting in the late 1940s. In 1987, the organization was unable to renew its insurance coverage and lawsuits stemming from coconut-related injuries forced a halt to the long-standing tradition of throwing coconuts.

In 1988, however, Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards signed Louisiana State Bill #SB188, the “Coconut Bill,” into law, removing liability from injuries resulting from coconuts and enabling the tradition to resume.

This year, with Mardi Gras coming on the heels of a spike in homicides and gun violence in New Orleans in 2016, the Zulus have been encouraging members of the community, young and old, to stop the violence and promote peaceful resolution of disputes. The life-affirming message will be found on some very special Zulu coconuts on Fat Tuesday.

King Zulu Adonis Charles Exposé is a native of New Orleans, LA. He is the youngest son of Mrs. Marion Brown Exposé and the late Frank L. Exposé. He attended Valena C. Jones Elementary, Francis W. Gregory Junior High, and was a 1986 graduate of McDonogh #35 Senior High College Preparatory School.

In the fall of 1986, Adonis continued his education at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now ULL) where he became the first African-American student to hold the position of Treasurer to USL’s Student Government Association. In 1991, he earned a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communications with a minor in English and later a Masters in Public Administration from Southern University Agricultural and Mechanical College.

He began his professional career at the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) and is currently employed by the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in the Office of Procurement and Contracts.

Adonis and his close friend of 35 years, Queen Zulu Donna M. Glapion, established their own company called Funkshuns, LLC, which is a full-service event consulting firm which has been in existence since 2005.

Queen Zulu 2017 Donna Marie Glapion, is the daughter of Gail Moore Glapion and the late John M. Glapion.

She attended Edward D. White Elementary School, Francis W. Gregory Junior High School and is a proud graduate of McDonogh 35 Senior High School.

She earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communications from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now ULL) In 1985, she continued her education by enrolling in the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now ULL), and completed post graduate work in language studies at the Universidad Ibero Americana, in Mexico City, Mexico.

A proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Glapion has worked for the late Dorothy Mae Taylor, Councilwoman-at-large, New Orleans City Council, and served as Statewide Operations and Finance Manager for the Mary Landrieu for Governor Campaign.

She has worked as the Operations Manager in the Corporate Real Estate/Facilities Management Department for Whitney National Bank, as the Section Administrator of the Hematology/Oncology Department at Tulane University School of Medicine and operations manager of the James Singleton Charter School. Currently, she serves as the Operations Manager at William J. Fischer Elementary School, along with being a co-owner of Funkshuns, LLC.

This article originally published in the February 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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