Krewe of Choctaw, The Old Regular’s Krewe

Mardi gras: a colorful spectacle of freedom and riches. It should come to no one’s surprise that these celebrations, even back in the day, were extremely costly. The cost of setting up one of these displays was insurmountable for some communities. In 1946 one float cost roughly $277, which translates to about $3700 in today’s money. The parades were also practically off-limits to people of color as the rich, white, and awfully racially intolerant krewes of 1946 took pride in safeguarding their community. They did this not only by raising costs but also by editing floats so that historical figures of color are played by white people or not represented at all. The Krewe of Choctaw began in 1935 as a social organization of the “Choctaws” or the “Old Regulars” of the city’s Democratic Party. In 1939, they bought ten U.S. government mail wagons for 50 dollars each to decorate as floats. This may not seem like a lot of money now but back in 1939, it was a huge sum of money. 50 dollars then is the equivalent of a little more than 900 dollars in modern money. Even after having spent more than the equivalent of $9,000 they still had to pay the money to decorate the floats.

The first “chief” of the Krewe of Choctaw was Leonard Santos. He was an ambitious man, not only being the first documented leader but also leading the first-ever Choctaw parade. He worked diligently to make sure everything went well and stayed “afloat” along with the men in his organizational group. After this first parade, the war became too big to ignore. This may have stopped the Krewes from parading, but it did not stop them from celebrating. They had many dances which would then turn into some of the first balls ever for the Krewe of Choctaw. These dances and parties would continue until 1946 when former Krewe Chief John Beninate and his followers decided it was time to reopen the marvelous Choctaw river parades.

River parades are a staple of Choctaw parading and are easily their specialty. They’re much like a regular parade but with large ferryboats, fireboats, coast guard, and tugboats all going up and down the Mississippi river.  the Krewe of Choctaw opened the 1964 Mardi Gras with this stellar performance even, although not plainly explained you can bet these river parades are as colorful and powerful as their floats. After this wonderful river parade, they disembarked and  boarded their beautiful 14 floats and rode down Algiers with the theme “Favorite Television Programs.” (Although I will not be announcing each float, their description can be found in the news bank citation below) Choctaw was only 4 parades in and thousands came out to see the great Krewe of Choctaw’s river parade and floats, it was safe to say that not only was this a successful parade but a successful opening to 1964 Mardi Gras that they had the privilege to open.

New Orleans Mardi Gras, Krewe of Choctaw ball. Chief John Dugas, Princess Rachel Dugas and maids. Photo by Lisa Heindel, 2009. (Flickr)

From there on out the Krewe of Choctaw experienced smooth sailing. With enough followers and earnings to keep up with their expenses they could actively celebrate their heritage down the roads and rivers of Louisiana, revealing the wonderful actions of their people as themes for their wonderful floats and well decorated and established outfits. Or they would if any of them were actually Choctaw Indians, why would this krewe be mainly if not only white people if there main goal was to show and celebrate there heritage, well because it’s not. Something extremely easy to miss but altogether crucial is;  krewe of Choctaw is directly funded or “sponsored” by the RDO or the Republican’s Democratic Organization and with funding gives you a certain piece of power in anything. Now it may seem outrageous today if I told you I think the RDO purposely placed all white people into the krewe of Choctaw, but in the 1940s when they didn’t even let people of color participate in any float in new Orleans it begins to make more sense. For the krewes of New Orleans was a Rich white dominated world and the thought of a large group of Choctaw Indians invading that world was not going to fly. But above all else what doesn’t make sense is how we still allow these people to practice in redface and racially insensitive acts today.

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