Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club
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The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club (founded 1916) is a Carnival krewe in New Orleans, Louisiana which puts on the Zulu parade each Mardi Gras Day. Zulu is New Orleans' largest predominantly African American carnival organization known for its blackfaced krewe members wearing grass skirts and its unique throw of hand-painted coconuts. The club is a regular feature of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
In 1908, John L. Metoyer and members of a New York 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, 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 chief-of-police, refused to give in to pressure and continued to parade, but gave up blackfacing, wearing grass skirts and kept the identity of the king secret. Due to continued pressure, 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 to the crowd. In the early 20th century, other parading organizations threw glass necklaces, often hand-made and expensive. The working men of Zulu could not afford similar throws, and decided to purchase coconuts from the French Market since they were unusual and relatively cheap. 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 tradition. In 1988 Governor 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.
King of Zulu
Zulu is the only New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe that selects their king through an election process. Potential kings must campaign for the job, including throwing parties for other krewe members to solicit votes.
List of past Kings of Zulu:
Queen of Zulu
In 1948 Edwina Robertson became the first Queen of Zulu, making the club the first to feature a queen in a parade. It is a tradition for the club to make a show of meeting the Zulu queen at the airport, but most years' Zulu queens live in New Orleans and therefore have to travel elsewhere so that they can make the flight into the airport for the ceremony.
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- Strachan, Sue (February 2013). "Cedric George Givens, King Zulu 2013". New Orleans Magazine. New Orleans, LA: myneworleans.com. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
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- MacCash, Doug (May 31, 2015). "Zulu crowns Jay H. Banks as its king for Mardi Gras 2016 in Sunday elections". www.mardigras.com. NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
- Larino, Jennifer (February 24, 2017). "Not one for average, King Zulu Adonis Expose earns 'ultimate' honor with 2017 reign". www.mardigras.com. nola.com. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
- Larino, Jennifer (February 9, 2018). "From 9th Ward kid to Carnival royalty, 2018 King Zulu Brent D. Washington Sr. is 'one of the strong'". www.nola.com. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
- Scott, Liz (February 2000). "Queen Gee: She Brought a Touch of Hollywood to the Zulu Throne". New Orleans Magazine. Vol. 34 no. 5. New Orleans, LA. pp. 14–15.
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