Labor Day Carnival

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A woman in an elaborate costume marches towards the end of the parade route, September 1, 2008.

The Labor Day Parade (or West Indian Carnival) is an annual celebration held on American Labor Day (the first Monday in September) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York.

The main event is the West Indian Day Parade, which attracts between one and three million participants.[1] The spectators and participators watch and follow the parade on its route along Eastern Parkway. Some of the Caribbean islands represented in the parade include Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Barbados, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and Grenada. Also represented are South American countries such as Guyana and Suriname and Central American country known as Belize.


Start in Harlem[edit]

Woman in costume in the 2009 New York City parade.

Jessie Waddell and some of her West Indian friends started the Carnival in Harlem in the 1920s by staging costume parties in large enclosed places like the Savoy, Renaissance and Audubon Ballrooms due to the cold wintry weather of February. This is the usual time for the pre-Lenten celebrations of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival and other related celebrations around the world. However, because of the very nature of Carnival, and the need to parade in costume to music, indoor confinement did not work well.

The earliest known Carnival street parade was held on September 1, 1947. The Trinidad Carnival Pageant Committee was the founding force behind the parade, which was held in Harlem. The parade route was along Seventh Avenue, starting at 110th St.

The first Carnival Queen was Dorothy Godfrey. The Committee raised money to finance the parade. They sold advertisement space and boosters, that were printed in a Souvenir Journal for West Indies Day, a booklet which is a memento of that first parade. Jessie Waddell Compton is presented in the journal as the person "whose inspiration and enterprise" was owed to the formation of this committee. The committee consisted of Waddell Compton-Chairman; Ivan H. Daniel-Vice Chairman; Conrad Matthews-Treasurer; Roy Huggins-Secretary; and Robert J. Welsh-Assistant Secretary. Each member of the committee contributed in helping to organize the parade. The after-parade party, which the Trinidad Carnival Pageant Committee held at the Golden Gate Ballroom (located at 142nd St. and Lenox Ave), was arranged by James M. Green, another figure who helped make the first Carnival Parade in Harlem successful.

Move to Crown Heights[edit]

The permit for the Harlem parade was revoked in 1964. Five years later, a committee headed by Carlos Lezama, which eventually became the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association, obtained approval for the parade to be established on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, where it remains today.[2][3]

In popular culture[edit]

Many Calypso and Soca songs from Trinidad make reference to the Labor Day Carnival, including "Gunplay on the Eastern Parkway" by Calypso Rose, "Melee (on the Eastern Parkway)" by Maestro, and "Labor Day in Brooklyn" by the Mighty Sparrow. Jay-Z mentions the Labor Day Carnival on his hit song "Empire State of Mind" (2009), when he says "3 dice Cee-lo, 3 card monte, Labor Day Parade, rest in peace Bob Marley". There are also popular Haitian bands with their powerful meringue-compas music on the parkway, such as T-Vice, Tabou Combo, Konpa Kreyol/Kreyol La, Sweet Micky, Phantoms, Carimi, Djakout, D.P. Express and many more popular bands.[citation needed]

Criticism of the parade[edit]

In 2003, a man was fatally shot and another was stabbed in the neck.[4][5] In 2005, one man was shot and killed along the parade route. In 2006, one man was shot and another was stabbed. At the 2007 parade, there was only one official report of violence, when a man was shot twice in the leg.[6][7] However, a different man (named Nathaniel Smith) was shot and killed in the 2007 parade.[8] In 2011 pre-dawn marches took a violent turn with the murder of one person, five instances of gunshot victims and three instances of stabbings coupled with sporadic shooting at crowds of people.[9]

Following the 2011 parade, Yolanda Lezama-Clark, The President of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) and other New York City officials condemned the one or two incidents that took place at the parade.[10]

Additionally during the 2011 West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, New York City councilman Jumaane Williams along with a few others were arrested for walking along a closed-off sidewalk, after stating he had received permission to do so from other officers.[11]

The 2012 parade was also marred by several violent incidents that took place after the official end of the parade. In separate incidents, two people were fatally stabbed, and two other shot.[12] In 2013, two men were murdered and a further three individuals were wounded in several shootings.[13]

Further critique involves numerous noise complaints to New York City's 3-1-1 service regarding sporadic marches beginning at midnight of the night prior to the parade.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Manuel, Peter (1995). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-338-8. 


  1. ^ thus taking in more foot traffic in one day than the entirety of Toronto's Caribana festival.
  2. ^ "Our Brooklyn: West Indian Carnival". Brooklyn Public Library. 2005. Accessed January 20, 2011.
  3. ^ Peter Manuel:Popular Music of the Non-Western World. p73, last paragraph, p74
  4. ^ "Brooklyn Man Held In Killing at Parade" The New York Times October 4, 2003
  5. ^ McClam, Erin "Violence mars Caribbean parade honoring slain councilman" Associated Press 2003
  6. ^ "Man Shot Twice At West Indian Day Parade" The New York Sun September 4, 2007
  7. ^ "West Indian Day Parade Dazzles Again" Gothamist LLC. September 4, 2007
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ WIADCA Responds To Reports Of Parade Violence
  11. ^ Blau, Reuven; Cunningham, Jennifer H.; Alpert, Lukas I.; Hutchinson, Bill (September 5, 2011). "Councilman Jumaane Williams arrested after altercation with NYPD at West Indian Day Parade: cops". Daily News (New York). 
  12. ^ Ruben, Liz; Leonard, Randy (September 4, 2012). "Two Men Fatally Stabbed and Two are Shot as Violence Follows Parade". The New York Times (New York). 
  13. ^ Velez, Natasha (4 September 2013). "2 dead, 3 injured following West Indian Parade: Police". New York Post. 

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