Zulus take center stage as Carnival 2013 crescendos
11th February 2013 · 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.
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. 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.
Tbe 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.
King Zulu 2013 is Cedric G. Givens and his queen is his wife, Mrs. Monica V. Givens.
Givens has been involved with the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Inc. since 1994, becoming an associate member in 1999, and then full membership in July 2003. In 2005 Cedric Givens reigned as Zulu Governor and from 2008 – 2012 he served as a board member. He has also served on and chaired several committees, most recently acting as the Chairman of the Zulu Anniversary Committee. He is involved in social groups within the organization like the Big Dawgs and the Go-Getters.
Cedric Givens is no stranger to leadership roles. He is currently serving as the Vice-President of Operations of Intercontinental Private Equity Partners where he oversees and manages office operations and transportation in over 20 different countries.
A New Orleans native, he is the youngest child to Robert and Janice Givens. He was educated in the Orleans Parish Public School System where he graduated from Alcee Fortier Senior High School in 1985 and attended the University of Southwestern (now the University of Louisiana Lafayette). During his undergrad studies, he became a member of the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity —Beta Phi Chapter. He is a member of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church
Queen Zulu, Mrs. Monica Veal Givens is a native New Orleanian, is the Business Manager at McDonogh 35 College Preparatory School. She is the eldest child to Myrna Mitchell and Bertell James Veal and has two siblings Litra Brown Lewis and Bertell Jamal Veal. She is a graduate of Alcee Fortier Senior High School and has an Associate of Science degree from Delgado Community College in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Phoenix in Business Management. She is a member of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Marrero, Louisiana, a life member of the Pride of Gretna #60 Order of Eastern Star.
Zulu’s royal couple have three children, Stacey Thomas, Ryan Williams, and Rayna Brantley.
The coronation of King and Queen Zulu was held on Friday, February 8, before throngs of well-wishers and guests who celebrated and danced the night away at the Morial Convention to the music of Frankie Beverly, Mystikal, DJ Jubilee and Tucker.
On February 5, the Zulus gathered at Dooky Chase Restaurant to announce its 2013 honorary grand marshals — Leah and Edgar Chase. The Chase family runs a restaurant steeped in Black history and Mardi Gras tradition. In 1949 King Zulu Louis Armstrong raised his glass in a toast to the Chase family, a tradition that will live on this year when the current Zulu king and queen salute the Chase clan.
This year’s Mr. Big Stuff is Kyle Mathieu. The Governor is Chris Stanton. The Province Prince is Gilbert C. Dorsey. The Mayor is Douglas Melançon. The Ambas?sador is Jefferson Reese Sr. The Witch Doctor is Randolph Davis. Mr. Big Stuff is Brent D. Washington Sr.
Zulu’s Annual Toys for Tots distribution was held Saturday, December 15, 2012. More than 1,500 kids from throughout the New Orleans metro area received toys and more than 400 bikes.
Lundi Gras, the annual pre-Fat Tuesday party started by the Zulus nearly three decades ago, saw Zulu royalty carnival-goers entertained by DJ Captain Charles, the James Rivers Movement, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, Rebirth Brass Band, Big Al Carson and the Rare Connection, 2 XY Band, Pin Stripe Jazz Band, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys, Ed Perkins Band and the Real Jakarta Band.
The 2013 Zulu commemorative poster was created by New Orleans native and Xavier University alum Terrance Osborne. Osborne, 38, taught for five years in the Orleans Parish school system. After Hurricane Katrina, he decided to dedicate his time completely to his art. That dedication is paying off as the gifted painter continues to grow in national prominence.
This article was originally published in the February 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper