Happy Mardi Gras! It is parade day in Monroe! I’ll be on one of the floats tonight, but I’ll be in disguise! If you recognize me, yell, “Throw me something!” Here is a Mardi Gras themed article I wrote for Road Trips a couple of years ago.
Many people in the area believe the Mardi Gras parades in Monroe began with the Twin Cities Krewe of Janus’s first parade in 1984. Actually, the first parade rolled fifty-four years before then, in 1930. No pictures of it that I know of exist. What little information we have are found in area newspapers.
It is not known what brought about the idea of a Mardi Gras parade in Monroe. What we do know, is that it was created by an African-American businessmen’s association called the X.Y.Z. Club. Because it was an African-American endeavor, white newspapers at the time gave it little notice. What we can find are bits and pieces. It wasn’t until the parade was celebrating its third annual roll-out that the newspapers took notice. The newspaper stated that at 3:30 pm on February 28, 1933, King Zulu with his retinue arrived at the Pine Street wharf on a “gaily painted and embellished barge”. In later years, Governor James A. Noe loaned the club the use of his yacht, Noe’s Ark. The king and his queen then led a procession through downtown, where the parade ended at the Miller-Roy building. A Mardi Gras ball was then celebrated there in the Savoy ballroom. The entertainment would be provided by a big band orchestra, such as Ben Burden and Oliver Green’s orchestras. One year (1939) an orchestra was brought in from Natchez. It makes me wonder if it was the jazz great Bud Scott and his band!
Each year the parade would get bigger and bigger. Decorated cars, floats and bands began to join in, “…with noisy acclaim, amid blowing horns, tooting whistles and jingling bells.” When the parade would end and the Mardi Gras ball at the Miller-Roy would spill out into the street, a loud speaker was brought in to broadcast the music to the people below. Some years the ball was held at various nightclubs. The Liberty at Fourteenth and Adams streets was a frequent host. Prizes were donated by area businesses to give to the best dressed person and the most comical costume.
The royalty were very rarely named. Tradition says that local entertainer “Bootie Jim” held court one year. In 1940, the News-Star ran a ballot for the election of King Zulu. Those in the running were: B.C. “Moocher” McClain, Blondie “Bar-B-Q King” Nicholson, Horace “Big Meachie” Smith, “Pinetop” Binn and Layassa “Garbage” Booth were in the running. “Big Meachie”, a local piano player, won. We only know the name of one other, Andrew Statfn who was king in 1952. The king’s outfit was described: “The King wore flaming red knee breeches and jacket, and a gold crown.”
Queen Zulu was named in the newspapers more often. When she reigned, her dress was green. The queens who are known are: Melissa Williams (1935), Alma Washington (1937), Carrie May Atkins (1938), Melissa Williams (1939), Martha Louise Dorsey (1940), Adlene V. Joshua (1941), Lucille Burrell (1942), Evelyn Buckler (1944) and Ramona Bowie (1952).
Each year, the parade was organized by Fred Perkins, the charismatic president of the Z.Y.Z. Club. In just about every newspaper description of the Zulu festivities, his name would be mentioned. He was a porter for the News-Star but was well known in his community as a top Master of Ceremonies at many church and civic functions. When the parade began to wane in the 1950’s, Mr. Perkins decided to dress as the devil to meet the king and queen at Pine Street. From 1956 to 1962, there seems to be no more parades, but Mr. Perkins, dressed as the devil, would still make his annual appearance at many area businesses. He would have his pitchfork in hand and be accompanied by King Zulu and his Merry Makers.
In 1962, the last article about the XYZ club parade was reported. It stated a dance was being organized, “…sponsored by various Negro organizations in Monroe.” No further information was found. It seems King and Queen Zulu’s reign in Monroe has faded into our past and was forgotten. Laissez les bons temps rouler!