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MARDI GRAS hot spots FOR KING & COCONUT Zulu traces its history to several key local sites BY Davis Allen EVERY YEAR, thousands of people fill the streets to catch a glimpse — and, if they’re lucky, a coveted coconut — from the Krewe of Zulu parade on Mardi Gras. The parade’s traditional route takes it from uptown to downtown, but there are several key spots on and off the route that have played important roles in the history of the Zulu So- cial Aid & Pleasure Club. Clarence A. Becknell Sr., the club’s historian emeritus for more than three decades, has chronicled Zulu’s growth from its humble begin- nings to today, when it’s one of the most anticipated parades on the Carnival calendar. He’s spent years researching its storied history and 30 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org hopes to clear up some common misconceptions about Zulu. “We’ve come a long way to gain respectability from the commu- nity, by going out into the community and talking,” Becknell said. In addition to giving presentations on Zulu’s history at local schools, he assembles an exhibit filled with costumes, historical photos and krewe information and presents it at Lakeside Shopping Center during Carnival season. Zulu was formed in 1909 after a group of friends visited the Pyth- ian Temple — a building at 234 Loyola Ave. that was an important cultural hub for New Orleans’ African-American community at the time — and saw a play, titled “There Never Was and Never Will Be a King Like Me,” about the Zulu tribe. Afterwards, they returned to their typical meeting place, a bar and restaurant nearby owned by John L. Metoyer, one of Zulu’s founding members. During the impromptu meeting at Metoyer’s bar, the friends sparked the idea to organize a club inspired by the play. The founding members paraded on Mardi Gras for several years, and then formally incorpo- rated in 1916 as the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. The founders “created their own culture,” Becknell explained. “One of the biggest myths that we have is that everybody ties us to Africa. But we have no ties to Africa; they just took the name from the play that they saw,” he said. “People have been saying Zulu was formed to make fun of Rex, and that’s not true,” added Becknell, refuting another often-heard theory that Zulu was formed as a parody of Rex, the king of Carnival. The Zulu parade is a local favorite today, but it wasn’t always al- lowed to travel down New Orleans’ main thoroughfares. “When it got started, it was discriminated against,” Becknell said. “We had to have our parade in the back of the neighborhoods. We weren’t allowed to go on St. Charles Avenue; we weren’t allowed to toast at Gallier Hall,” he said. The Zulu parade didn’t roll down St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street until 1969. MARCH 2019