The Zulu Krewe
While the Rex Krewe’s royalty is often referred to as the official King and Queen of Mardi Gras, there is another set of royalty that deserves mention and praise.That is the royalty associated with the Zulu Krewe.The Zulu Krewe was established in 1916 and was the first Krewe solely dedicated to New Orleans’ African-American population. Prior to this time it was hard for African-Americans to gain entry into the other popular Krewes due to the fact that they were often white-only Krewes.The Zulu Krewe changed all of that and finally gave the largest segment of the New Orleans’ population a chance to properly partake in the Mardi Gras festivities.However, the Zulu Krewe was not without its own controversy. During the 1960s the Krewe saw its membership ranks decrease dramatically.This was due to the Zulu Krewe tradition of donning a grass skirt and blackface for their parade, which many African-Americans at that time thought was demeaning.However, those dark days are now firmly in the past as the Zulu Krewe is one of the largest and proudest Krewes involved in the Mardi Gras festivities. Their annual Lundi Gras festival draws over 10,000 attendees each year. In addition, unlike many other Krewes their community involvement and activism isn’t only limited to the time surrounding Mardi Gras but continues throughout the year. The Zulus have a well-established toy drive each Christmas season making sure that as many children as possible in the New Orleans area can have a memorable holiday season. Also, they sponsor a college scholarship fund and other community enriching programs.
The Zulus have been especially vocal in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when many of their members’ neighborhoods were decimated. They have organized various events to help their members get back on their feet.And while their parade did go on as planned during 2006 Mardi Gras, their King Larry Hammond decided to hold off on participating until next year. This was to give reverence to their members who had suffered great losses from Hurricane Katrina. The Zulus are a wonderful example of how the Mardi Gras experience can really be year round and brings together communities, making them a better place, while demonstrating to the public that the Krewes can have a tremendous impact in their members’ lives and their neighborhoods beyond a few weeks at the start of the year during Carnival.