Mardi Gras of 1946, was the start of something new and achievement to the people of New Orleans. After World War II, people needed a sense of celebration into the new freedom and to bring happiness into the world. The marching clubs in New Orleans was one of the things that held the Mardi Gras of 1946 together, causing the celebration to be particularly special.
Marching crews (or, better put, ‘krewes’) are made up of groups of people who come together and bond over something they all have in common. This is expressed as the members’ identity among that certain group. For example, this could be their identity from sexuality and gender to them sharing the same school, which celebrate through dancing, playing an instrument, and especially by wearing costumes.
In the mid-1900’s, enjoying the parades as a group was a hard thing to do; the size of the elite crews caused difficulties in just walking the streets of New Orleans. The action of people banding together and creating these marching krewes not only widened the reach of parade-related festivities, it also heavily influenced the tradition, evolving it to what we now enjoy as Mardi Gras.
Some marching clubs from 1946 exist today, the history behind them enriching the overall experience for both its members and its onlookers.
At the time, the notable individuals that celebrated Mardi Gras consisted of wealthy white men. The marching krewes formed at this point were noticeably not a part of this elite circle; take The Women of Venus, created in 1941. The Women of Venus was an all-women group returned strong after World War Two, persisting beyond the stigma, slurs, and actual food that was thrown at them.1 Over the decades, their presence inspired the creation of many all-female krewes seen in Mardi Gras today, such as the Krewe of Helios and the Krewe of Cleopatra.
The Jefferson City Buzzards is another one of these krewes. Founded in 1890, they are captured marching down Audubon Park and Larelle street below.
In 1946, the Lyons Club was founded by a group of neighborhood friends, first establishing themselves as a krewe before being able to march the next year. This club is made up of many people around the world and still marches on Mardi Gras today. The Original Zenith Brass Band, starring the Avery “Kid” Howard, started as an all-black marching band around this time, and became known for playing during parades and neighborhood funerals.
Some of the marching krewes of 1946 also primarily consisted of the younger generation.2 Schools with marching bands joined the krewes, thus being able to show off their school spirit during Mardi Gras.3 Other clubs such as the Eleanor Carnival Club — established in 1905, with 1936 being the first Mardi Gras they were able to watch — showed their spirit in beautiful, over the top costumes. In 1946, the members dressed as aliens of faraway planets, expressing how Mardi Gras could take to another reality than their own.4
Most of these clubs are still around and march in Mardi Gras today. They still proudly display their their elaborate costumes and long tradition of marching, promoting a sense of community. Their presence displayed that people could come together, dress up, and pridefully celebrate who they were.5
Many elite krewes — Rex being one of them — did not want these marching krewes to be a part of their parades. There was a certain reputation they wanted to maintain, and being seen with lesser known, less composed, and less wealthy groups seemed to be the antithesis of that. In addition to the struggles surrounding just recruiting and organizing a krewe consisting of regular, middle-class citizens, the opposition created by the higher class caused it to become very difficult to be put on the Mardi Gras schedule during this time.6 Due to this, newspapers at this time featured many articles announcing cancellation of marching clubs. Black marching bands in particular were not allowed in Mardi Gras unless they were followed by Zulu or behind Zulu.
Despite this, many marching krewes and bands had to fight to keep their spot in the parade routes. Some krewes even went as far as to show up even when told not to, proving this point: everyone deserves to show their pride in not only creating Mardi Gras, but also participating in the celebration of life in the city of New Orleans.
More recently, a parallel could be drawn between the Mardi Gras of 1946 and the Mardi Gras of 2006 — the year after Hurricane Katrina, when much of the New Orleans area was still devastated by the high winds and destructive water damage of the ‘Perfect Storm’. In both time periods, there was a significant growth in marching krewes, for much of the same reasons: the rebuilding of communities and the need to celebrate life. And even better: the extent to which normal New Orleanians could express themselves was even more free than it was in 1946, allowing for people to dance, play jazz music, or proudly bear their signs to celebrating what they stand for.
Now, the wealthy can not stop African Americans or any ethnic group from marching and celebrating Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras today still has elite krewes such as Rex and Carnival,, Mardi Gras’s central idea now is based upon freedom and to show people that New Orleans is where people come together for all backgrounds to be a committee. Today, there’s the 610 Stompers and the Saint Augustine Marching 100, and plenty of marching krewes representing minorities or the oppressed, such as the LGBT community in the Lords of Leather or the all-women krewe of the Bayou Babes.
Written By: Gracie Elizabeth
Originally Published: December 11th, 2020 || Last Updated: January 27th, 2022
A part of Doc Studio’s History of the New Orleans Landscape Collection
- (2017, August 14). Brave Women with Beads. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.mardigrasnewotlenase.com/news/the-first-all-female-mardi-gras)
- (A walk on the wild side. (1997, January 29). The Time-Picayune, pp. 1-171. Retrieved November 13, 2020.)
- (Carnival Throngs Acclaim Rex. (1948, February 11). The Times-Picayune, pp. 1-3. Retrieved November 13, 2020.)
- (The Times-Picayune. (1946, March 6). Marching Clubs Have Their Day, pp. 1-6. Retrieved November 13, 2020)
- (Gist Of the News. (1946, March 6). The Times-Picayune, p. 1. Retrieved November 13, 2020.)
- (Crescent City parade permits denied. (1946, February 20). The Times -Picayune, pp. 1-16. Retrieved November 13, 2020)