Mardi Gras 'Zulu' tradition raises racial questions

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In any other context, mass groups parading down the street dressed in blackface and throwing coconuts would be construed as a blatant act of racism which would normally be condemned.

But every year, the New Orleans Mardi Gras embraces the theme and flips it as a source of cultural pride.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is the largest predominantly African-American Krewe in New Orleans. The origin of the Zulus dates back to the early 1900s when the Mardi Gras celebrations themselves were segregated.

In 1949, Louis Armstrong was chosen to be the Zulu King, but many blacks tried to dissuade him based on their concerns about how his influence might further racial stereotypes. He went on to accept what he considered “an honor,” saying that was something he dreamed of ever since he was a little boy growing up in New Orleans.

When the black consciousness movement radicalized  thoughts and opinions on race in the 1960s, some demonstrated against the Zulus and their numbers dwindled to near extinction. It took a concerted effort to desegregate the Mardi Gras parade in 1968 that led to the krewe’s resurgence. But by that time, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club had become more that a group gearing up to march in the Mardi Gras Parade.

It became a benevolent organization, offering insurance benefits to the recently uninsured, charity fundraisers, scholarships and religious support. Many Zulu members are church-going people who hold leadership positions.

To this day, dozens are on a list hoping to gain membership. In the following report, a father and son share their pride in being able to march together this year as Zulus.

Grio fam, what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Click here to watch the full video report on WDSU News.