The History of Baton Rouge’s Mardi Gras Parades

by Baton Rouge Room archivist Emily Ward

King Ugandi

The first Mardi Gras parade in Baton Rouge was sponsored by two African American clubs, the Purple Circle Social Club and the “colored Esso Boosters,” and took place in 1941.  The Esso Boosters were responsible for sponsoring King Ugandi and his float for the event.  King Ugandi was represented by Ernest Dupuy, employed by Y. & M. V. check office.  The King and his parade followers rolled down South Blvd., on to East Blvd., North Blvd. and  ending on Government Street where the revelers attended a ball at the Club’s headquarters.  There was an estimated 20,000 people, both White and Black, that showed up to watch the festivities.  When asked about the choice of names for the king, the response was this, “Ugandi is a British protectorate in East Central Africa.  It consists of 110,300 square miles and has a population of more than three million highly cultured Negroes.  Hence—King Ugandi.” (Matthews Jr., 1941, p. 14). Visit the following links to read the original announcement in Standard Oil’s newsletter, then called The Stanocolan:

The Stanocolan, pg. 1

The Stanocolan, pg. 2

 

Once Upon a Time

A float from a 1951 parade.

What was believed to be the first, but was actually the second, Mardi Gras parade took place in 1949 and was sponsored by the Young Men’s Business Club (YMBC) of Baton Rouge.  The theme was Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes and consisted of 33 floats all representing a nursery rhymes, 4 marching bands from local high schools, and torch bearers.  The parade rolled downtown and made a loop back to the American Legion Community Club where a ball was hosted in honor of Mardi Gras royalty and nobility.

Before 1949, if you wanted to celebrate Mardi Gras, the options were limited to New Orleans or to one of the smaller parades such as those in New Roads or Lafayette.  There was also the more traditional Mardi Gras celebration that took place in the small Cajun town of Mamou which involved the Courir de Mardi Gras – a traditional rural celebration where participants ride through the countryside costumed and masked collecting ingredients for the evening gumbo.   The Baton Rouge parade attracted some of the largest crowds the city had ever seen and that popularity allowed the YMBC to sponsor the parades for eight years.

When there were no parades

There was no definitive reason given by YMBC when they dropped their sponsorship of the annual Mardi Gras Parade and subsequent ball in 1957; however, other groups and organizations kept the celebration going by hosting private balls and parties for members of their organizations or clubs.  The archives houses the Mystic Krewe of Desk and Derrick collection, which is a women’s organization dedicated to the education of women in the oil and gas industry.  They have hosted an annual ball since 1961 that still thrives today.  Another organization whose records are stored in the Baton Rouge Room Archives is the Mystic Krewe of Apollo, which began hosting a lavish bal masqué (masked ball) in 1980.

La Krewe Mystique de la Capitale and the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Association

In 1976, two krewes decided to put on a parade for Baton Rouge.  The krewes Knights of Nineveh and the Ladies of Antiope paraded with 68 units, 14 floats, and 7 bands and was sponsored by the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Association.  Mayor-President Woody Dumas served as Grand Marshal and rode in a convertible at the head of the parade.  Nearly 100,000 people came out to view the parade that began in the Rebel Shopping Center on Florida Blvd. and rolled East to E. Airport Drive. Ever wondered what the “mystique” or “mystic” meant? This is a designation applied to krewes that will not reveal the identities of their royalty until the opening of a parade or a ball.

In 1977, new krewes and parades begin to develop.  La Krewe Mystique de la Capitale became the premier parade Krewe in Baton Rouge.  This parade and Krewe is meant to be for the Capital City and not specific to any one neighborhood or specific group or organization.  It’s mission is to bring Mardi Gras to Baton Rouge.  Today, La Krewe Mystique de la Capitale’s parade is one of the longest running parades in the city.

The Mystique Krewe parade route, 1977.

The most recent city parades to be added to the itinerary of Mardi Gras celebrations are the Krewe of Orion, added in 1998, and the Krewe of Artemis, an off-shoot of Orion, added in 2003.  Orion began as a co-ed organization and then split to create its sister Krewe of Artemis, which is a women’s only Krewe. These krewes are still an integral part of the Baton Rouge parade scene.  You can see these parades a few weeks before “Fat Tuesday.”

Neighborhood Parades

From 1979 to 1981, two new krewes were added to the mix.  The first in 1979 was the Krewe of Rio, which paraded on Burgin Avenue. In 1981, Don Zeringue announced that the historic Spanish Town neighborhood would host its own parade. The Spanish Town parade became well known for its satire and as a medium to critique and poke fun at current events and politics.  Sporting a pink flamingo as the official mascot, this parade has only grown in popularity through the years and has added an array of parade favorites such as the Krewe of Yazoo Lawnmowers Drill Team and the Prancing Babycakes to name a few.

In 1989, Southdown Flambeau Parade was added to the Mardi Gras Roster.  This parade rolls out from S. Pickett Street and ends at Acadian Thruway and Perkins.  A family friendly parade, the identifying characteristic is the use of flambeau.  Flambeau is a type of flaming torch typically with three candles.  This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Krewe of Southdowns.

There are many smaller krewes that host or have hosted community parades that deserve mention as well. See the list below:

  • Poor Man’s Parade: Gulf State Regional Institute and Burbank parade
  • Mystic Krewe of LaCumba de Jaguar: Southern University Krewe
  • Krewe of the Tiger: LSU Krewe
  • East Gate Mardi Gras: Old Hammond Hwy.
  • Krewe of Girl Scouts
  • Krewe of Grease: Cotton Club parade

Baton Rouge 200, the Library, and You!

Hello, Baton Rouge! As you should know by now, this year marks the 200th anniversary of the incorporation of Baton Rouge. Civic institutions and businesses all over the city will hold special events all year to celebrate the establishment of this place we call home. You can find information about Baton Rouge history, BR200 events, and other ways to celebrate on the Baton Rouge 200 website.

The library is in on it, too – don’t miss the history timeline, made by the very fine folks in the Baton Rouge Room! They’ve incorporated some images and details from our local history collection, including pictures of historic places and people from Baton Rouge’s earliest days. They also contributed to a photo slider of pictures from all over town – you can just click and drag to see the changes.

This year’s One Book, One Community read, Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, is also a tie-in! We’ll have programs to celebrate both community events at all of our branches. Keep an eye on the events calendar to find out about new fun happening near you.

Baton Rouge Civil Rights Resources

Baton Rouge has a long history as the center of civil rights battles, on both statewide and national fronts. A.P. Tureaud, a New Orleans resident, was instrumental in bringing true integration to state colleges and universities. The Baton Rouge bus boycott in 1953 was the first such event in the country, and served as a model for the Montgomery Bus Boycott begun by Rosa Parks two years later. Below are some of the most prominent pieces of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s collection on Baton Rouge’s civil rights history.

  • Journey for Justice: The A.P. Tureaud Story – This documentary by Rachel Emmanuel details A.P. Tureaud’s work as a member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New Orleans, including suits filed against the state to force equal funding to black and white schools in accordance withJourney for Justice: The A.P. Tureaud Story Plessy v. Ferguson. Later, when this became too expensive, he successfully sued to equalize pay for black and white teachers and to desegregate Louisiana State University and the Orleans Parish School District.
  • Oral history with Pearl George – Pearl George, a local activist and civil rights leader, was instrumental in establishing the Eden Park Branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system. She campaigned tirelessly to desegregate Baton Rouge lunch counters and integrate the pool at City Park, and served three terms on the Metro City Council, where she was the first African American woman elected as a representative.
  • Signpost to Freedom: the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott – This documentary covers the strong grassroots African American community activism of Baton Rouge in the 1940s and 1950s, including the events leading upSignpost to Freedom: The 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott to the 1953 bus boycott in Baton Rouge. It goes on to examine how the boycott’s organizers, and the reaction of the citizens of Baton Rouge, contributed to civil rights organizations across the south, especially the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955.
  • Our African American Legacy – EBRPL maintains a site of prominent African American community groups and a timeline of civil rights events in this city. You can visit the link to learn more about our community’s development, and how the organizations who got us here are still strengthening us today.

You can find more information about the history of the African American civil rights movement in Baton Rouge with the regularly updated Baton Rouge Civil Rights infoguide.

Long Live the King and Queen!

Guest post by Emily Ward

It is that time of year again! Time to pull out those ball gowns and tuxedos to pay homage to the new king and queen.  If you have had the good fortune to attend one of the balls hosted by local Mardi Gras Krewes then you know how amazing those costumes can be, and you may have even wondered what happens to those costumes once the show’s over.

brr425

The Baton Rouge Room Archives has worked closely with a number of Krewes to preserve their organization’s memory.  One of the Baton Rouge Room’s favorite services offered is the preservation of textiles.  We have worked with groups such as Krewe de la Capitale, Krewe of Romany, Mystic Krewe of Apollo, and Krewe of Artemis to preserve ball costumes, back pieces, club records, and memorabilia.

One of our more extensive collections comes from the Mystic Krewe of Apollo, a gay men’s organization that puts on an extravagant, traditional-style Bal Masque in support of AIDS research.  Each Bal Masque has a theme which is central to the evening’s main entertainment, the tableau in which members are uniquely costumed to represent the theme of the ball. The costume pictured below, is of King Apollo IV, from the 1985 Bal Masque, Bal_Masque_II_Knight_in_Shining_Armor“Games that we Play.” As you can see from the intricate detail and size of the costume a great deal of time and skill goes into creating them.  The Krewe of Apollo has utilized the skills of costume designers, Carol Guion, who has been working for Apollo since the early 1990s, and Charles West, who was one of the group’s first designers.  The designers are integral part to the development of a theme for the festivities and begin working on designs almost a year in advance.

King_Apollo_IV
King Apollo IV

Another Krewe represented in the Baton Rouge Room is the Krewebrr424 of Romany.  This Krewe, created in 1949, was one of Baton Rouge’s first women’s Krewes.  In many ways this ball served as a debutant ball.  In order to serve on the court or to be Queen, women had to be between the ages of 17 and 25 and never been married, and their mothers had to be members in good standing.  Loretta Shelton has been the Krewe’s costume designer for 40 years and before that, costumes were designed by Frances Doyle and other members.

Romany Cape
Romany Cape

If you are interested in seeing more costumes in the Baton Rouge Room collection, check out the Baton Rouge Digital Archive to see sketches and images from the balls.  If you or someone you know are interested in donating a costume to the Baton Rouge Room, please contact us at 225-231-3752 or at meastin@ebrpl.com.

Add Video: Krewe of Romany https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDMragYBjvk