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Zulus’ 2014 festivities celebrate Nelson Mandela

3rd March 2014   ·   0 Comments

It’s Carnival time and all eyes in the City That Care Forgot are on what has become one of Mardi Gras’ most popular attractions: The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

This year’s festivities will pay tribute to human rights leader Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter who spent 27 years behind bars for daring to challenge apartheid in the white-dominated nation. He was released in 1990 and went on to become South Africa’s first Black president and a major voice in the global community. He passed away in 2013 after a lengthy illness.

Despite its humble beginnings in the Big Easy more than a century ago, the all-male Black Carnival organization has become a favorite of tourists and locals alike as much for its coveted decorated coconuts as for its devil-may-care attitude, historical legacy and old-fashioned swag.

To know Zulu is to love Zulu, but to know Zulu you have to go all the way back to the turn of the 20th century when New Orleans was still evolving and growing into the cultural phenomenon and historical gem it is today.

In 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 streets 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, 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 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 to 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 throngs of Mardi Gras revelers. In the early 1900s, other parading organizations threw fancy glass necklaces that were handmade and expensive. The working men of Zulu could not afford expensive treats, 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 unique 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. Mounting lawsuits stemming from coconut-related injuries, forced a halt to the longstanding tradition of throwing coconuts. In 1988, Governor Edwin Edwards signed Louisiana State Bill #SB188, the “Coconut Bill,” into law removing liability from injuries resulting from a coconut — enabling the tradition to resume.

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Inc. held its Annual Coronation Ball on Friday, February 28, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center featuring the crowning of Garren T. Mims and Georgette Anita Lang-Mims. “Zulu Salutes Nelson Mandela” was this year’s theme of the 2014 Zulu Coronation Ball.

Andrew “Pete” Sanchez, Jr., Chairman of Carnival Activities, blew his whistle to begin the Coronation Ball. Dennis Robertson served as Coronation Chairman and Clarence A. Becknell, Sr., Zulu Historian, “Emeritus,” served as the official Master of Ceremony for the Coronation Ball. The Marine Corp Band New Orleans posted the Colors and performed the National Anthem under the direction of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brian Sherlock and Gunnery Sergeant Duane King, Drum Major. The Marine Corp Band New Orleans is under the command of Lieutenant General Richard P. Mills, U.S. Marine Forces Reserve, U.S. Marine Forces North. Gerard Johnson, Chaplain of Zulu gave the Invocation and Naaman C. Stewart, President of Zulu, presented the welcome address. The Zulu Officers and Board of Directors and their escorts were introduced.

The 2014 Zulu Characters are Krieg Perkins, “The Big Shot”; Derek Rabb, “Witch Doctor”; Chef Lawrence V. Westly, “Mayor”; Joseph TJ Aldor, “Ambassador”; Eric Larose, “Governor”; Melvin Labat, “Province Prince”; and Kevin McKnight, “Mr. Big Stuff.” The 2014 Royal Court of Zulu became official as Cedric Givens King Zulu 2013 crowned Garren T. Mims, King Zulu 2014, and Monica Veal Givens Queen Zulu 2013 crowned Georgette Anita-Lang Mims, Queen Zulu 2014. The Royal Court of Garren T. Mims, King Zulu 2014, consists of Russell Kelly, King’s Charge D‘ Affaire, Clifton Jones, Jr. and Stanley Aldridge, King’s Warriors, Jobe Kelly, Royal Duke, and Gabriel Elton Mims and Garren Thomas Mims, Jr. Royal Princes. The Royal Court of Queen Zulu 2014 included Joseph Morton, III, and Ron Tassin, Queen’s Charge D‘ Affaire. Attendants to the Queen were Teri Dorothy Jackson, Evette Bradford, Eileen Lang-Hines, Joycelyn Marie Williams, Yolanda Webster-Williams, and Paula Mims-Baptiste. Gabrielle-Logan Mims, Royal Princess, Kasii Mims and Juwan Torregano were Imperial Princesses. The Pages will be Sydney Bradford, IV, Elijah Hines, Justus Washington, and Jace Louis Williams.

Among the musical guests slated performing at this year’s ball were Patti LaBelle, Mint Condition, Rebirth Brass Band, DJ Jubilee and Captain Charles.

King Zulu-elect Garren Mims, a member of Zulu since 1995, is a proud graduate of McDonogh 35 Senior High School and Southern University-Baton Rouge, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business and finance. Since 2000, he has been employed as a manager by the Louisiana Department of Health Hospital, Center of Preventive earth, Nutrition Services. He is also an associate of Danette O’Neal Realtors Inc. He is a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadeloupe Catholic Church and a loving husband and devoted father.

Queen Zulu-select Georgette Anita Lang-Mims is a proud graduate of St. Mary’s Academy and Dillard University, where she earned a nursing degree. She also earned a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix. After 20 years of employment with the State of Louisiana. she retired from that post and later took a position with Catholic Charities.

Its Lundi Gras actives will take place Monday, March 3, at Woldenberg Park along the Mighty Mississippi River. The family festival, which is the brainchild of Zulu, will feature great food, live music, arts and crafts and fun activities for the kids.

This article originally published in the March 3, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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