Since Mardi Gras is officially over and everyone is eating seafood on Friday now, I had to put in my final carnival post. This particular one is also filled with a bit of history of the civil rights movement that took place in New Orleans.
As many people who live in the city already know, St. Augustine Marching 100 was supposed to march in Rex this year. The band pulled out of Rex because, Rex wanted Warren Easton to lead the parade this year(at the request of Arthur Hardy.)
On the surface, this seems very trivial for a band to want to lead every parade. It seems very cocky for them to expect to be lead band at every parade.
And while Rex is the one who wanted another band to lead this year,
what amazes me more is the “selective memory” that takes place in this fair city, among many blacks who have forgotten that, black marching bands weren’t allowed to participate in carnival.
Like the rest of the civil rights movement taking place in the 60’s, someone had to stand on the front lines and be the first…
and being the first wasn’t going to be easy.
In 1967, St. Augustine Marching 100 became the first black band to integrate Mardi Gras.
These kids (and let us not forget they were children) ages 14-17 years old, marched in Rex and while marching in that parade, in addition to being called niggers and other racial slurs , had to endure…
bottles being thrown at them, having people spit on them and other horrible things just for marching in what was known back then as “white carnival.”
One of biggest insults they endured was when they marched through the French Quarters (the parades used to go in the Quarters back then) was that…
the folks on the balconies URINATED ON THEM.
Yeah, it was that deep and that real.
When St. Aug marched on Canal Street, an elderly black women, dropped to her knees in front of the band and thanked God that she had lived to see that day.
The day when a black band marched on the streets of New Orleans.
The kids were talked to before the parade and told that, no matter what, do not react to the crowds.
Whatever they dish out…take it.
Turn the other cheek…
and they did.
Because of what they endured and because they did not react,
the krewes began to allow other black marching bands to participate in Mardi Gras.
Because they were the first to integrate Mardi Gras, and for what the band endured, out of respect ,they are given lead in every parade they march in.
Back in the day, most bands understood this and it was expected that Aug would be first.
However today, many bands are vying to lead parades as if that part of black history never took place…
like no one fought for that right.
The right for black bands to march in carnival parades.
People fought for that right.
Kids fought for that right.
Think about yourself when you were that age or your own kids that are 14-17 years old.
Now, think about crowds of people doing those things to you or,
to your kids while marching in a parade.
How would you feel about the situation then?
Probably the same way they feel.
Their place as lead band wasn’t given to them…
it was earned.
They paid their dues for the place that they hold.
I know because…
my brother marched.
And my husband stood out there at 17 years old and watched his fellow classmates as they were subjected to the hatred being hurled their way.
Most of the kids who march in the band today are nephews, sons or cousins of those very same young men who marched in 1967.
I find it so ironic that, folks blame the bands ego for pulling out of Rex yet,
want that same position given to them….
with no dues paid.
That to me, is the real ego trip.
And it’s typical of this generation…
wanting all of the rewards,
with none of the struggle.
Our history is what it is.
We can’t selectively choose what we want to embrace because, it fits our agenda.
Nor can we ignore what we want to because, it fits our agenda.
Pulling out of the parade was the right thing to do.
Because, at the end of the day…
it’s all about respect.