Mardi Gras in New Orleans Came from a Secret Society

New Orleans is known for its Mardi Gras celebrations, but its history is much more mysterious than you might think.


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*The Mardi Gras Indians are affirmed on this date (Fat Tuesday). Beginning around 1732, Blacks participated as a cultural foundation of New Orleans and Mardi gras history. The Mardi Gras Indians are as much a part of that secret society as any other carnival organization. The heritage of the Mardi Gras Indians is a long and hard African based road. Starting in late 1600's with the Indian Village of Tchoutchuoma, near the north gate of the colonial place of what has become the New Orleans French Quarter.

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, and named it "Pointe du Mardi Gras" when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established "Fort Louis de la Louisiane" (which is now Mobile) in 1702. Native Indians were first taken as slaves according to records. Some were Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Blackfoot. Even then, there was thought of Mardi Gras, as the white men of the colony of mobile, formed a Boeuf Graf Society. This traditional revelry of "Boeuf Gras," or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies. Indians did not make good slaves, their love of freedom was so severe they would run into the bayou or disappear into other camps which the French and later the Spanish wouldn't dare venture into.

A call went out the governor to bring African slaves to the area, since they were known to be better workers and could not survive in the swamp. In 1719, some of the first African Slaves arrived for sale at the port of New Orleans. Some would be sold here. Most were held in the slave pens on what is now Camp Street. For two years things were kept in order, as the African, West Indies, and Haitian slaves were trained in running plantations.

Slowly, the slaves and the Indians began to understand each other's language, and this improved their co-operative efforts to work in harmony together. It also gave them the way to plan escapes. In 1722, the first known escape of a slave from a plantation, took place. It is said that tribes such as the Choctaw, Seminoles and Chickasaws in Louisiana were responsible for freeing some of the Africans from slavery. With Indian help, the Africans learned to survive off the land and lived in the forest camps that came to be known as Maroon Camps.

African relationships with Indians were frightening for whites as the last thing that the colony needed was Indians and African slaves becoming allies. They were intentionally kept from one another while in bondage. The Europeans had good cause to be frightened, because in 1729 most of the 280 African Slaves owned by a company of the West Indies, join with the Natchez Indians in what became known as the “Natchez Revolt.” It was an attempt by the Indians to prevent their sacred lands from being seized, as the French tried to develop their beginning tobacco industry. The Indians promised the African slaves freedom, in exchange for their help, and along with 176 Indian braves, the force attacked their captors. But they were betrayed by one of the sailors of the West Indies Company that had accidentally overheard the plans. The revolt was put down with amazing savageness. Some of the slaves were beheaded and their heads mounted on pikes and placed on the levee, to frighten and warn others as to what would happen, if it ever happened again. This show of force was so successful, that no other attempts were recorded for two years. The French colonist, convinced that all was now under control, relaxed the rules and the First recorded reference to slaves dancing at gatherings held on the plantations were found in the archives, in 1732.

African Slaves were highly valued at this time in New Orleans history, as were the free men of color for their considerable trade skills. The colony, still under French rule, had a sort of live and let live approach to slavery, so much so, that slaves were “given the weekend off " to earn money and go into town. Negroes had the trust of the French, so much, that some slaves and the free men of color, were formed into a fighting force of Mulatto troops, to defend the fort in case of attack by Indians. Two years later, in 1736, Governor Beinville and his Negro troops attacked the English and their Indian allies in the “Chickasaw War”. Simon, a Free Negro who accompanied Bienville, led a company of 45 to 50 free Negroes, in that battle. Indeed trust had been established by the Negroes, in order to gain some of the advantages freedom could bring. So much so, that in 1744, the "Place de Negroes", (later known as Congo Square) became the established place to meet. Still in existence Blacks of all shades would transact business, get news, etc, on Sundays, for free men of color, and later for the area slaves, as they began to sell, and produce other goods to accumulate money and buy their freedom. These slaves would gather by the hundreds on Sunday afternoons to sing and dance in their traditional style at Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park).

But the slaves had not abandoned their thirst for freedom. They had formed a plan and meeting in the square enabled them to perfect their plans. But this would prove to be time consuming and slow. They relied on the Indians to help negotiate the swamps and continued to cultivate their relationship with them, even establishing a sort of Underground Railroad to the maroon camps where possible. It was at this time the Africans were very thankful to have such allies, and in 1746 archives begin to refer to slaves dressing as Indians as the Africans began to celebrate Mardi Gras in their unique customary fashion. These were in all likelihood, the first known “Black Indians ". Slaves escaped wherever they could and were tracked as far as the camps, in many instances.

In 1771, the Free Men of color were now holding parties in the back areas of the cities and in the Maroon Camps, during Mardi Gras celebrations, and still dressing with the Indians, while adopting their ways. Because of the mass escapes plus and that some of these Creoles were sneaking in to the balls the Spanish administration of the city at the Cabildo, granted a prohibition of black persons from being masked, wearing feathers, and attending night balls. This only forced them to now dress and roam only in the black neighborhoods and Congo Square. In 1783, free men of color formed the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association for insurance and social aide to Blacks. This was the first of hundreds of such organizations that would be the cornerstone of most of the Black walking clubs, and Carnival Organizations of present. Then in 1795, twenty-three conspirators were hanged when Spanish authorities allegedly discovered plans for a slave uprising from the free men of color, who themselves, owned slaves.

From 1783 to 1803, under Spanish/French rule, free Negro's and free men of color, were an integral part of the colonial militia. Their peacetime duties were patrolling the streets of New Orleans after dark maintaining Law and Order. This had allowed them to trade off favors for money and a chance at freedom. But the 1803 Louisiana Purchase toke place and American Troops toke possession of the colony. Things were never the same for the slaves, Creoles, and free men of color, after the troops arrived. With the acquisition of Louisiana, Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the fledgling U.S. and made it a world power. Later, 13 states or parts of states were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase territory. The laws changed over night, and no more slaves were to be set free. Americans acted very nasty as opposed to the French and Spanish. To top it off, the Americans didn't allow any Indians to enter the city. The first sign of real trouble was in 1804, when fights began to break out about whether French or English music is to be played at the Carnival balls. A new ordinance required two policemen to be present and no weapons to be carried at the balls. For 6 years things got progressively worse for the African slaves on the plantations.

The year 1811 brought the greatest slave revolt in American history in St. John Parish, as an estimated 500 field hands walked off the upriver plantations. But they were sandwiched between Federal troops moving down from Baton Rouge, giving chase, and the Battalion of soldiers made up of Free Men of color. They were trapped. Though well organized, they had been betrayed before they could get to New Orleans, with the battle ending in Jefferson Parish in what is today, Kenner, La. The revolt was put down savagely, by 1 company of Mulattos, troops (consisting of Indians, Negro's, Creoles, and free men of color) Some of the surviving Negroes, and Creoles slaves began to tell who was involved in the revolt after repeated beatings. This lead to a general feeling of uneasiness, and charges of insurrection being brought not only against the actual participants, but any slave thought to be a trouble maker, whether he took part or not. It took upwards to 3 years to find all the accused slaves even then some still managed to escape. Because of the fear generated by the 1811 slave revolt all gatherings by slaves and free men of color were prohibited. This ended all masking by the Indians in Congo square. They had to alter their plans, routes and dates to remain undiscovered. This sent the Mardi Gras Indians into deep hiding. But the art was still practiced, and by now the costumes for which they are extremely famous for began to appear. It wouldn't be until 1835, that the Black Indians would resurface, in the known archives.

The Mardi Gras Indians are comprised, in large part, of the Blacks of New Orleans' inner cities. They have paraded for well over two centurys yet perhaps the least recognized Mardi Gras tradition. Typical Mardi Gras organizations will form a "krewe”, which names their parade after a particular mythological hero or Greek god. The ranking structure of a Mardi Gras Krewe is a parody of royalty: King, Queen, Dukes, Knights and Captains, or some variation on that theme. Many more established Krewes allowed membership by invitation only. Historically, slavery and racism were at the root of this cultural separation and few in the ghetto felt they could ever participate in the typical New Orleans parade. The Black neighborhoods in New Orleans gradually developed their own style of celebrating Mardi Gras. Their "Krewes" are named for imaginary Indian tribes according to the streets of their ward or gang. The Mardi Gras Indians named themselves after native Indians to pay them respect for their assistance in escaping the cruelty of slavery. It was often local Indians who accepted slaves into their society when Blacks made a break for freedom they have never forgotten this support. In the past, Mardi Gras was a violent day for many Mardi Gras Indians. It was a day often used to settle scores. The police were often unable to intervene due to the general confusion surrounding Mardi Gras events in the city. where the streets were crowded and everyone was masked. This kept many families away from the “parade,” and created much worries and concern for a mother whose child wanted to join the "Indians."

Mardi Gras Indians have been parading in New Orleans at least since before the 19th century. The tradition was said to have originated from an affinity between Africans and Indians as fellow outcasts of society, and blacks circumventing some of the worst racial segregation laws by representing themselves as Indians. An appearance in town of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the 1880s was said to have drawn considerable attention and increased the interest in masking as Indians for Mardi Gras. When Caribbean communities started to spring up in New Orleans, their culture was incorporated into the costumes, dances and music made by the "Indians". In the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century the tribes had a reputation for violent fights with each other. This part of Mardi Gras Indian history is immortalized in James Sugar Boy Crawford's Jock O Mo (better known and often covered as Iko Iko), based on their taunting chants. The song "Iko Iko" mentions two Mardi Gras Indian tribes.

As the 20th century progressed, physical confrontation gave way to assertions of status by having better costumes, songs, and dances. It has been remarked that generations ago when Mardi Gras Indians came through neighborhoods people used to run away, now people run towards them for the colorful spectacle. The tradition of male-only tribes ended in the late 20th century as females began appearing as well. The HBO series Treme features one tribe of Mardi Gras Indians, the Guardians of the Flame, in one of the major plot lines weaving through the series, featuring preparations, the parades as well as strained relationships with the police department.

Because of Covid-19, the 2021 traditional Mardi Gras was canceled. Local in New Orleans, adjusted (Image above) to celebrate amid the pandemic.

Xavier University of Louisiana, Thurgood Marshall Middle Magnet School New Orleans, Louisiana.

New Orleans Mardi Gras Mystick Krewe of Comus Secrets Revealed

/>Henry Makow relates his discovery in a 2007 blog entry, " a curious but very credible Internet document called 'The Mardi Gras Secrets' states that Illuminati agents poisoned and killed Presidents William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) and Zachary Taylor (1784-1850). They also poisoned James Buchanan in 1857 but he survived. All three were obstructing Illuminati- House of Rothschild plans for the US Civil War (1860-1865). The document also describes the Illuminati role in the murders of Abraham Lincoln and Senator Huey Long."

Makow relates known details about this enigmatic document: "The Mardi Gras Secrets website was created in Dec. 2005 by Mimi L. Eustis, the daughter of Samuel Todd Churchill, a high level member of the secret New Orleans Mardi Gras Society called "The Mystick Crewe of Comus." This Society, which reorganized the Mardi Gras festivities in 1857, was a chapter of the Skull and Bones. It began as a front for the activities of Masons Albert Pike, Judah Benjamin and John Slidell who became leaders of the Confederacy. This information is based on Samuel Churchill's deathbed confessions, when he was dying of lung cancer. Mrs. Eustis later decided to make them public after she also contracted the terminal disease." A reader can't help but share Makow's astonishment and enthusiasm about the revelations contained in this deathbed confession!

In his blog entry Makow supplies reader with a short synopsis of the orginial document, "New Orleans Mardi Gras Mystick Krewe of Comus Secrets Revealed":

"The Illuminati ringleader was Caleb Cushing (1800-1879), the partner of William Russell, the opium smuggler who founded the Yale Skull and Bones Society in 1832. In order to rise in this society, one had to participate in a 'killing of the king' rite of passage.

According to Eustis, the Skull and Bones (or Brotherhood of Death) is 'nothing more than a political assassination hit team against those United States politicians who do not fall in line with the House of Rothschild's plans for a blood elitist domination and control over the world's economy. For example Caleb Cushing was involved in the arsenic
poisoning deaths of United States presidents William Henry Harrison on April 4, 1841 and Zachary Taylor on July 9, 1850. These two Presidents had opposed admitting Texas and California as slave states.'"

Mimi Eustis supplies further revelations excerpted from the original:

"Caleb Cushing for his role in the 'Killing of the
King'-political assassinations of U.S. political leaders-received his passage into the 33 ritual-and was made a
secret King of Comus. Albert Pike, Judah Benjamin and John Slidell and August Belmont assassinated
Abraham Lincoln and were also secret Kings of the Mystick Krewe of Comus. John Wilkes Booth. secret King of the Mystic Krewe of Comus."

Eustis makes clear Masons were intended to be cover for clandestine

"My father emphasized that all this was not simply a part of the Masonic order. Most Masons were hard
working judges, doctors, bankers, lawyers and just good old business men attempting to do what they thought
was the right thing in life. However, these vast majorities of Masons never went beyond the 3rd degree. True
they were sworn to blood oath secrecy but only within the 3rd level and what is called the “rite of blue
passage”. The Masons were used by the Illuminati-Skull and Bones as a disguise. Those who passed into the
33rd level were part of the 'Killing of the King' ritual. The stage and drama of a stage is part of this ritual.
Those in the lower levels were directed and in many cases did as they were told without realizing at the time
their part in the 'Killing of the King'. The New Orleans Mardi Gras Mystick Krewe of Comus provided a
perfect stage and drama for its Comus Kings to revel into passage of the 33 rite-cloaked in secrecy, revelry
and power."

Makow closes blog entry with inevitable conclusions reached after digesting harsh realities of a very strange but hard to dismiss deathbed confession: "The 'Mardi Gras Secrets' suggest that, given the depth of corruption, the US political system cannot be taken seriously as a democracy. There is a pattern of Illuminati-Rothschild control throughout US history. People who deny this are living in a fantasy. The United States was created to advance the Illuminati New World Order based on Rothschild control of credit. Throughout its history the United States has been in the clutches of a satanic cult empowered by the Rothschild central banking cartel." Wow!

Mardi Gras and the Illuminati (updated)

In 1857 six New Orleaneans saved Mardi Gras by forming the Comus organization. These six men were former members of the Cowbellians, an organization which had put on New Year's Eve parades in Mobile since 1831. The Comus organization added beauty to Mardi Gras and demonstrated that it could be a safe and festive event. Comus was the first organization to use the term krewe to describe itself. Comus also started the customs of having a secret Carnival society, having a parade with a unifying theme with floats, and of having a ball after the parade. Comus was also the first organization to name itself after a mythological character (son and the cup-bearer of Dionysus). The headquarters for the Mystick Krewe of Comus became the Picwick Club. Here before the days of computers, telephones, etc, a place of secret communication was established for those in the higher levels of the Illuminati&rsquos New World Order. The ordinary members of the Mystick Krewe of Comus had no knowledge of what Albert Pike, John Slidell, and Judah Benjamin were up to. The three secret elitist could also establish their code numbers. The number thirteen was used as the number of the invited guest to establish the original number of founders. The kings identity of the Mystic Krewe of Comus was kept secret.

The Secret Jewish History of Mardi Gras

At first glance, Mardi Gras — the New Orleans version of the worldwide Carnival celebrations — seems anything but Jewish. Its quintessential elements, including public masquerade, the imbibing of copious amounts of alcoholic beverages, and second-line parade music aren’t stereotypical territory for the people of the book, outside of a few bar mitzvah parties that went on way too long.

On second glance, however, Mardi Gras — which takes place this year (2020) on February 25 — takes on a different cast. A Jewish one.

For one, there is the holiday’s proximity in the calendar to the Jewish festival of Purim. And just as Easter has elements of Passover, and Christmas is basically Hanukkah 2.0, so too does Mardi Gras resemble Purim in more ways than one.

In fact, masquerading, drinking, making noise and all sorts of revelry are essential elements of Purim, one of the only days of the year when Jews are actually encouraged to party like it’s 1999. It’s an upside-down day, much like Mardi Gras, when men dress up as women and vice versa, when the meek are encouraged to be rowdy, when adults are supposed to act like kids, and when you are encouraged to poke fun at sacred cows (to mix a cultural metaphor, which seems appropriate in this case).

Purim of course has its serious legal obligations: Jews are required to hear the public reading of every word of the Megillat Esther, or the Book of Esther. But at the same time, by custom they are urged to interrupt the reading with cheers and boos, noise and music. Every time the name of the evil Haman is read, it is to be blotted out with graggers and kazoos and other noisemakers, which, if you think about it, could be the prototype instruments of New Orleans jazz. And by the end of the reading, according to the Talmud, you are supposed to have drunk enough schnapps such that you cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai,” which a scientific survey found to be equal to the exact level of drunkenness of the average Mardi Gras reveler.

New Orleans’s Mardi Gras celebrations date back to the early 19th century. By mid-century, social organizations, or “krewes,” had begun to form. They were men’s social clubs, like the Temple Brotherhood, that adopted mythologies, secret handshakes, and themes for their costumes. One such organization was Rex, whose king also acts as the official King of Carnival. The first such man thusly honored with the title “Rex” was Louis Solomon in 1872. Solomon, a prominent Jewish businessman, is said to have been a descendant of Haym Salomon, the financier of the American Revolution.

After the Civil War, things got worse for the Jews along with other victims of racial and religious prejudice. With the rise of Jim Crow and anti-immigrant sentiment in the early 20th century, Jews as well as blacks were banned from most of the New Orleans krewes.

Eventually blacks and Jews formed their own krewes. The first African-American krewe, Zulu, was founded in 1909, although its Mardi Gras parade route was confined to black neighborhoods well into the 1960s. Zulu’s approach was a Purim-like grotesquerie, in which participants appropriated the very look and behavior attributed to them by racist Southerners as a kind of mockery or send-up. They dressed according to the worst portrayals of the “savage” African, they wore blackface, and they handed out coconuts and spears to the crowd.

It was supposedly the sight of this cultural subversion in action, as well as the sound of a marching band playing klezmer — the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars — that inspired a young Jewish newcomer to New Orleans named L.J. Goldstein to form the modern-day Krewe du Jieux in 1995. And like the Zulus, they appropriated anti-Semitic iconography for their costumes, wearing fake hooked noses and horns, dressed as bankers and lawyers, and built a float that promoted the “Jieux World Order.” Instead of coconuts, they threw bagels.

And just as the establishment of the first synagogue in town eventually must lead to the establishment of a second, in order that Jews have a place in which they won’t set foot, so too did a group of members split off from the Krewe du Jieux in order to form the Krewe du Mishigas, bringing the secret Jewish history of Mardi Gras to its ultimate and perfect conclusion.

Seth Rogovoy frequently writes about the intersection of popular culture and Jewish themes for the Forward.

These are the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans

The Indians have long been the subject of mythology and mystique.

I’m sitting in a cluttered workshop in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood.

Surrounding me are plastic containers filled with beads and rhinestones of about every hue imaginable, elaborate feather headdresses, glue guns, oversize spools of thread, and fluffy lime-green tufts that suggest a Muppet has exploded. Along the back wall hang spectacular suits from Mardi Gras past, including a cobalt-blue beauty covered in beaded patches depicting Buffalo Soldiers.

At the center of this craftsman’s chaos sits Dow Edwards, spy boy, or scout, for the Mohawk Hunters, one of about three dozen “tribes” that represent the city’s Mardi Gras Indians.

Edwards is busy putting the finishing touches on his suit, which he has worked on an average of five hours a day for the past nine months. Though the materials alone cost thousands of dollars, he will wear the outfit just three times in public: when parading with the Mohawk Hunters on Mardi Gras, the evening of St. Joseph’s Day—celebrated city-wide on March 19—and “Super Sunday,” the Sunday that falls closest to St. Joseph’s Day.

“The first time I [encountered] the Mardi Gras Indians back in 1968,” Edwards recalls as he glues a strip of purple jingle bells to a pair of bright green boots, “I saw them dancing and singing and I thought, ‘Man, I want to be one of them!’”

Despite having been raised in Uptown, Edwards—a former New England Patriots wide receiver and Army airman who found a second calling as a lawyer—had never known anyone who had gained entry into the exclusive and famously secretive society. But in the days after Hurricane Katrina, he found his entrée when a secretary at his firm introduced him to her boyfriend Tyrone Casby, the big chief, or leader, of the Mohawk Hunters.

“The joy I had when I put my first suit on…there’s a certain sense of spirituality that comes from the long process of creation,” Edwards says. “I played professional football in stadiums packed with people cheering, but there’s nothing like being a Mardi Gras Indian.”

The Indians have long been the subject of mythology and mystique. Many historians trace the genesis of the tradition to the days of French and Spanish rule, when slaves would gather at Congo Square in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood to play traditional African folk music and dance and sing to blow off steam and celebrate their heritage.

Before slavery was outlawed in the United States (of which the city became a part in 1803) and for some time after, New Orleans’ African-American residents were excluded—formally and otherwise—from participating in mainstream Mardi Gras celebrations.

In response, the city’s black community developed its own Carnival traditions, including parades where rival gangs would “mask” as Native Americans, crafting colorful suits covered in fish scales or bottle caps to pay tribute to the indigenous peoples who had helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom in Louisiana’s bayous. On Mardi Gras day, when police were busy protecting the French Quarter, the tribes took to the streets of their neighborhoods to strut their stuff.

“There are stories about Indians taking their mama’s pearl necklaces and putting them on their suits because they wanted to be pretty,” Edwards says. “They wanted to get out there and mask on Mardi Gras just like everybody else.”

The Mardi Gras Indians came to the world’s attention in 1965, when New Orleans girl group The Dixie Cups struck pop-music gold with “Iko Iko” (a cover of 1953’s “Jock-A-Mo,” by Sugar Boy and His Cane Cutters, also of New Orleans). The lyrics describe a quintessential collision between two tribes, who exchange taunting chants:

“My flag boy and your flag boy
Were sittin’ by the fire
My flag boy told your flag boy,
‘I’m gonna set your flag on fire.’”

The spy boy’s job is to march ahead of his tribe along the parade route, acting as lookout, while the flag boy walks between the spy boy and the big chief, relaying messages between the two and—as the name suggests—carrying the gang’s flag.

Though these traditional roles are largely symbolic and ceremonial today, Edwards is old enough to remember when they were essential. He describes the Mardi Gras Indians of his youth as a backstreet culture with territorial rivalries that often led to bloody confrontations.

But by the early 1970s, several of the most powerful big chiefs—including Donald Harrison, Sr., of the Guardians of the Flame, Tootie Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas, and Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias—came together to put an end to the violence and move the legendary African-American tradition into the New Orleans mainstream.

“[The big chiefs] decided our territories weren’t worth battling over because we didn’t own any of it,” Edwards says. “They said a chief’s job is to protect his tribe and make sure each Indian got home safe [and] changed our motto to ‘Kill ‘em dead with needle and thread.’”

There are any number of places to get a taste of the rich history of the Mardi Gras Indians, including the Backstreet Cultural Museum, the House of Dance and Feathers, and the Donald Harrison, Sr. Museum. But to truly understand the significance of the tradition in New Orleans, you’ll want to head to Central City’s A.L. Davis Park on Super Sunday for the start of the most anticipated parade of the year.

As Edwards walks toward the park in full regalia—a stunning lime-green, orange, and purple suit depicting fierce battles between rival Native American tribes, complete with matching shield, spear, and headdress—people across the street shout the three words every Mardi Gras Indian loves to hear: “You the prettiest!”

The scent of boiled crawfish and fresh beignets fills the air as the streets along the three-mile parade route fill with revelers. Some are content to watch from the sidelines, others walk, dance, or strut alongside the Indians, who chant phrases like “Shallow Water” and “Indian Red” to the beat of the second-line jazz as they preen and pose for pictures.

It’s a celebration of culture and community unlike all others, and, for Edwards, just what post-Katrina New Orleans needs.

Black Mardi Gras: Resistance, Resilience and the Preservation of History in New Orleans

Mardi Gras, the February celebration renowned around the world, has a long and rich history that is often unknown and overlooked by tourists and locals alike. In 1699, a French-Canadian colonist arrived near what is now New Orleans, and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” because he realized it was the eve of a popular European holiday. In 1703, the first Mardi Gras festival in the area was celebrated. In 1704 the first secret masking society formed, similar to what we see in today’s krewes. Before the city was established in 1718, Louisiana’s governor at the time planned esteemed balls for the elite, which are the model for today’s Mardi Gras balls. What is known as Fat Tuesday has long been celebrated as preparation for Lent, a Catholic tradition of abstaining from pleasurable foods that will be eaten again on Easter. Originating during the time of colonization of the Americas and in the thick of slavery, Mardi Gras was originally intended as a celebration for white Europeans who migrated to America.

However, it is hard to imagine Mardi Gras today without the presence of the Mardi Gras Indians. To this day, the mysticism of these invitation-only groups is maintained as their battles remain secretive and unannounced to the public until the time for performance. One must be in the right time and at the right place to witness a battle of tribes. The world remains astounded by the display of art, music and culture that the Indians share on the streets with New Orleans each Mardi Gras.

These tribes are usually formed by individuals in low-income Black neighborhoods around the city. Their name is of paramount importance to the preservation of Black history. At the time that enslaved Blacks were escaping bondage during the Civil War, it was Native Americans in local regions who accepted and supported them in adjusting to their lives away from plantations. They were key allies in the road to Black freedom. A special connection was formed between enslaved Africans and indigenous people at that time due to this effort, and cultures naturally intermeshed with each other. Black communities learned about and incorporated Native music, dance, chant and costume forms into their own lives. Many Black and indigenous individuals conceived with each other and passed down both lineages to new generations. In the 1880s, the first Black Indians appeared for Mardi Gras, masked and fully dressed to pay respect to their Native American allies and commemorate their shared oppression. The patterns and beading on costumes have always been symbolic of tribal history within Indian groups, and chants and dance moves displayed stem deeply from Native tradition.


Historically, those in the lowest income neighborhoods felt displaced in Mardi Gras, and were banned from many festivities. Their involvement has been a direct act of resistance and empowerment. Black neighborhoods who gradually developed their own styles of celebration out of displacement from white communities are now key components of the Mardi Gras culture everyone celebrates. For Black communities in NOLA today, Black Mardi Gras culture helps maintain the passing down of history and traditions from the elderly to younger generations. Involvement in a Mardi Gras Indian tribe often occurs from family relations, and often, every generation has been involved. At a time in the world when so much culture and ancestral knowledge has diminished in the name of modernity and white supremacy, these forms of resistance to loss of the past are crucial. Along with the displays of Native American culture and connection through the Indians’ performances, much of the music played today in February as well as throughout the year has distinct West African and Caribbean rhythms.

Another huge display of Black history and culture comes from the infamous Krewe of Zulu. Zulu coconuts are one of the most prized possessions to catch during the season. There are many stories as to how Zulu began, but most research seems to point to the Benevolent Aid Societies that were developed early on in the 1900s as a form of insurance for Black communities. Social aid and pleasure clubs were originally formed when the city was divided into different wards. Members would pay a small fee to become members of their ward’s club, and if they became sick or needed to arrange a funeral, the associated club would support them in these circumstances. Today, YMO, an infamous masking group, continues to work to increase access to health care for Black communities. Resources for Black health in Louisiana and the South are strikingly inaccessible, so groups like this provide a very necessary service to their people. YMO is 135 years old and the oldest “second line” social aid and pleasure club in New Orleans. A fun fact is that the infamous Louis Armstrong, the Black jazz musician who Treme’s Louis Armstrong Park is named after, was once a Krewe of Zulu king.

The Mardi Gras Indians and Krewe of Zulu represent just two examples of the ways that Black culture and history have deeply impacted Mardi Gras celebrations for all people. It should come as no surprise seeing as how Black culture and history is responsible for so much of the enchantment of and draw to New Orleans. The presence of jazz music, Creole food, Haitian Voodoo, Second Lines and more arose out of the resistance and resilience of individuals who were determined to survive amidst the horrors of enslavement and various modes of oppression. We owe the enjoyment of these traditions to our Black communities who not only preserved their culture for survival, but to experience pleasure despite the powers pressed against them.

“African American History in New Orleans.” African American History in New Orleans ,

Barefield, Allana J. “Embracing Black Mardi Gras Keeps the Culture Alive for the next Generation.” The Undefeated , The Undefeated, 5 Mar. 2019,

Hamlin, Clarissa. “Why Mardi Gras Is Important To Black Folks.” NewsOne , NewsOne, 5 Mar. 2019,

“History Of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club.” Zulu Social & Pleasure Club ,

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“Mardi Gras History.” Mardi Gras New Orleans ,

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The first New Orleans Mardi Gras parades took place by the 1830s. These first parades were torchlit processions of masked riders on horseback and in carriages. The first famous krewe in New Orleans was the Mistick Krewe of Comus, a group founded by six men from Mobile who took their name from Milton&rsquos character Comus. Milton was inspired to create Comus as a representation of the Greek god of revelry, an appropriate inspiration for the first New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe.

In 1870, the second famous Mardi Gras krewe was formed in New Orleans, the Twelfth Night Revelers. Around this time, newspapers began publishing advertisements announcing Mardi Gras parades by krewes in advance. The newspapers also reproduced illustrations of the parade&rsquos floats. These illustrations were small and without much detail at first, but they began to be reproduced in full-color and vivid detail in 1886.

It was in 1872 that the first daytime parade was held. In honor of the occasion, the King of Carnival, Rex, was created. This was the year that the Mardi Gras colors of gold for power, purple for justice and green for faith were chosen. The colors were selected to honor the visit of Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff as they are the official colors of the Romanoff family. This was the same year that the Mardi Gras theme song &ldquoIf Ever I Cease to Love&rdquo was chosen, and it was selected largely due to the fact that Romanoff loved the song so much.

This was also the last year that floats would be constructed in France. Starting in 1873, every Mardi Gras float in New Orleans began to be constructed in the city. Two years later, Governor Henry Warmoth made Fat Tuesday an official holiday in Louisiana.

Many other krewes have sprouted up over the years, and nearly all of them come from highly selective private organizations that completely fund their own floats. That is why Mardi Gras is sometimes referred to by locals as the &ldquoGreatest Free Show on Earth!&rdquo From its beginnings until today, Mardi Gras has been about having a good time and enjoying a blast of fun before the fasting and restrictions of Lent arrive. It will surely stay the same as long as New Orleans exists.

The History of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

The history of Mardi Gras is as fascinating as New Orleans itself. Surviving nearly every possible obstacle, this incredible celebration is stronger now than ever before

Even for those seasoned professionals whose earliest childhood memories consist of sitting on Daddy’s shoulders screaming “Throw me somethin’ mister” and dodging a barrage of beads, the origins of “The Greatest Free Show on Earth” may be just as elusive.

The Roots of Mardi Gras

The term “Mardi Gras” is French for Fat Tuesday. It is the culmination of the Carnival season, which begins annually on January 6, the Twelfth Night (the feast of the Epiphany) and ends at midnight on Mardi Gras. Carnival comes from the Latin “carnivale,” meaning “farewell to flesh,” and is the season of merriment leading up to the penitential season of Lent. According to renowned Mardi Gras expert Arthur Hardy, no one is quite sure when, where or how the celebration first began.

Many historians and scholars believe that the roots of Carnival can be found within the ancient rituals of the Greeks and Romans celebrating fertility and the arrival of spring. According to Hardy, possible ancestors include the Bacchanalia, Saturnalia and Lupercalia celebrations, which were orgy-like festivals held from mid-February to March and consisted of feasts, drinking and public performances and spectacles.

In the formative years of the Catholic Church, early Church fathers realized the difficulty of separating their new converts from their pagan customs and allowed the celebration of Carnival, but within the context of Christianity. “The church decided it would be easier to channel it [Carnival] into Catholicism, having it serve as the prelude to Lent,” Hardy said.

The modern Mardi Gras celebration we are familiar with has been celebrated since the Middle Ages. Mardi Gras came to America from France in 1699 when the French explorer Iberville and his men explored the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River region.

On March 3, Mardi Gras, Iberville and his crew set up camp in a location approximately 60 miles south of New Orleans and christened the area, Point du Mardi Gras. According to French historian Samuel Kinser at the University of Northern Illinois, the first sign of organized celebrations began in the 1700s with the popularity of masked pre-Lenten balls and feasts. It was in the 19th century that most of the staple traditions of the holiday originated. The public celebration in the early years of Carnival consisted mainly of masked revelers on foot and horseback until 1837 with the first documented organized parade in the city.

The Formation of Carnival Traditions

The violence that erupted at the celebration scarred Mardi Gras in the public eye, and the festivities were halted. In 1857, several New Orleanians who had paraded in a group in Mobile, Ala., came to the rescue by forming the historic Comus organization proving that Carnival could be fun, beautiful and safe. Comus coined the word krewe (pronounced crew) which has come to be used by all Carnival organizations in New Orleans. Comus began several other traditions including the formation of a secret Carnival society, presentation of themed parades and holding formal balls following its parade.

With a need for illumination along the parade routes, the use of flambeaux came onto the Carnival scene. Flambeaux are fueled torches that were traditionally carried by white-robed black men throughout the parade. The tradition of flambeaux carriers can still be seen in parades today, but now they serve more ornamental purposes. In 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers introduced the traditional king cake to the celebration. The organization presented these cakes with small golden beans hidden inside to debutantes in order to determine who would be the queen of their celebration.

The Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff came to visit the city in 1872. To commemorate the occasion, a parade featuring a king figure was held in his honor, giving birth to the first appearance of Rex, which soon became an international symbol of Mardi Gras. The Rex organization gave the city its first daytime parade, selected Carnival’s official colors: purple (justice), green (prosperity) and gold (wealth), and introduced an anthem “If Ever I Cease To Love.” Other historical organizations were also born in the 1800s including Momus (1872), Proteus (1882) and the Jefferson City Buzzards (1890).

Mardi Gras in the 20th Century

The formation of the Krewe of Zulu marked the beginning of the 20th century. This black organization originally made fun of Rex the king of Carnival. Its first king made his grand entrance into the city on an old fishing boat and reigned over his subjects with a banana stalk scepter and a tin can crown, mocking the grandeur of Rex’s Mississippi steamboat and ornate attire.

The celebration of Mardi Gras proved itself to be a powerful phenomena throughout this past century. It survived being canceled eight times due to a yellow fever epidemic, both World Wars and various protests. In 1972, parading was banned in the French Quarter and a temporary cap was placed on creating new krewes due to the lack of space. The era also saw the rise of 45 organizations and the demise of more than 36 others.

A city ordinance in 1992 spear-headed by then Councilwoman-at-Large Dorothy Mae Taylor requiring Carnival organizations to open their private memberships signaled the end to the city’s oldest crews of Comus, Momus and Proteus, who protested the ordinance by ending their long traditions of parading, while other krewes agreed to the city’s demands.

Innovations including larger, high-tech floats and public demand have led to the rise of the superkrewes such as Endymion, Bacchus and singer Harry Connick Jr.’s famed Orpheus. The 20th century also brought about the spread of Carnival and Mardi Gras festivities beyond New Orleans. Today, more than 50 Carnival organizations hold parades and/or balls in Orleans, St. Bernard, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

New Orleans isn’t the biggest city in the world, nor is it the most popular. So why has Carnival and Mardi Gras had such an impact upon New Orleans? “It’s not like cities such as Detroit and Chicago can just up and start one [a Mardi Gras tradition],” Hardy said. “Being a Catholic town has a lot to do with it…it’s just natural.”

Watch the video: Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans. National Geographic (January 2022).