Brandon & Wallace waiting for the Zulu parade, Hilton Hotel, Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, New Orleans

The Zulu parade emerged around the turn of the twentieth century and grew out of New Orleans’s African American community. Members of benevolent organizations, groups that engaged in community organizing, decided that if Mardi Gras was going to be segregated, they would begin a Krewe (a Mardi Gras club) of their own. They crowned a king, who wore a lard can atop his head and held a banana stalk as a scepter, mocking the class privilege of most white Carnival Krewes. It got launched in 1909 by black working-class men — dock workers, wagon drivers, bartenders, hustlers, pimps . Zulu was considered an alternative to the «whites only» activities of Carnival. It began as a spoof, but gained popularity with working class and some of middle class as time passed. It was a subtle form of protest against the powers that be without crossing the line of «expected and accepted» racial behavior. There are all kinds of ways to interpret the meaning of Zulu and the notion of an African American man wearing blackface, which was typically the hallmark of the minstrel show. The most obvious of these readings is to view the use of blackface as an attempt to seize upon racist symbols and invert them as demonstrations of African American power. That African Americans choose to wear blackface demystifies racist cultural symbols and norms, robbing those symbols of some of their sting. By embracing and amplifying white stereotypes of black character, Zulu was a safe way to mock the mockers. Its clownish royalty punctured the pretensions of the ermine-bedecked white elite. The strategy made the black bourgeoise uncomfortable, however. The Civil Rights era was complicated for Zulu. What had been an important and subtle outlet for African Americans in New Orleans, open to many interpretations, suddenly was a contested ritual. Some African American observers were not happy with the use of blackface, which suggested that participants in Zulu were happily playing the fool for white New Orl

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