Rex was organized by New Orleans business men in part to put
on a spectacle in honor of the New Orleans visit of Grand Duke
Alexis of Russia during the 1872 Carnival season. Also in the
minds of the founders of Rex was the desire to lure tourism
and business to post American Civil War New Orleans.
The Rex parade is put on by an organization called The School
of Design. The organization is related to the private New
Orleans men's club The Boston Club. In addition to the famous
parade, Rex also holds a private ball for the membership on
Mardi Gras night.
One member of the Rex organization is each year chosen to
be the monarch of the organization; he is often referred to
by the (technically redundant) phrase "King Rex".
The identity of the King is made public on Lundi Gras, the
day before Mardi Gras. The Mayor of New Orleans traditionally
hands over a symbolic Key to the City of New Orleans to Rex
for Mardi Gras Day.
While historically restricted to people of European ancestry
for most of its history, Rex had no trouble complying with
the 1991 anti-segregation ordinances which ended the parades
of the Mystick Krewe of Comus (see). The first King of Rex
(businessman Louis Solomon) was Jewish, although for a number
of years in the early 20th century Rex prohibited entrance
into the organization of any new Jewish members.
Rex is categorized as one of the four New Orleans "Super
Krewes" for the very large size of the parade; the others
(Endymion, Baccus, and Orpheus) were all founded in the 2nd
half of the 20th century and parade during nights in the days
leading up to Mardi Gras. Rex is the only 19th century krewe
and the only "super krewe" to parade during the
The Rex parade has long been known for very finely and artistically
built floats. Many consider the Rex parade to be the highlight
and most beautiful sight of New Orleans carnival.
Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club
The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club (founded 1916) is
a New Orleans Carnival Krewe which puts on the Zulu parade
each Mardi Gras Day. Zulu New Orleans' largest predominently
African American carnival organization.
The Zulu parade grew out of an older small working-class
African American marching club called The Tramps in 1916.
The members decided to satirize the conventions of white New
Orleans Mardi Gras, particularly the Rex parade. Zulu also
satirized white society's attitudes towards and stereotypes
of blacks. While Rex arrived at the foot of Canal Street in
a yacht, the early versions of King Zulu arrived on Carondolet
Canal in a coal barge, wearing a tin crown made from a lard
can and holding a ham-bone, in parody of Rex's jeweled crown
and scepter. Members of the Zulus used black and white makeup
on their face in an even more highly exagerated style than
the blackface makeup of the minstrel show performers of the
era. The Zulu court wore grass skirts. Back when the New Orleans
police force was exclusively white, a contingent of Zulus
paraded wearing accurate duplicates of New Orleans police
Zulu was not the first African American carnival organization
in New Orleans, however it was the first to stage a sizable
public parade. Older organizations restricted themselves to
private balls and small marching clubs. In its early years,
the membership of Zulu was largely working class, and often
looked down on by more well to do and educated New Orleans
blacks. In addition to the carnival parade, Zulu also arranged
for funerals with a brass band for deceased members.
As late as the mid 20th century Zulu had no pre-publicised
set route, but would wind around predominantly black neighborhoods
with stops at various clubs and bars, in addition to a procession
in front of city hall where the Mayor of New Orleans and various
dignitaries were in reviewing stands waiting for Rex. By the
1920s Zulu had become enough of a tradition that King Zulu
and the Mayor exchanged toasts on Mardi Gras morning. After
the swing by old city hall, individual Zulu floats would sometimes
make their own way around the city as Zulu broke apart into
numerous mini-parades. Since the 1960s Zulu has been required
to hold to a set route like all the other large parades.
As the race and identity of individuals could be hidden by
the blackface makeup, a small number of whites joined Zulu
even in the days of the Jim Crow laws, making Zulu New Orleans'
first racially integrated carnival krewe even before this
In the early days the Zulu floats were decorated wagons,
later Zulu took to renting floats floats already used early
in the carnival season by other Krewes. This tradition continues.
Zulu does a rapid customization of these used floats before
the parade, so that in the Zulu parade one might see floats
depicting the likeness of such figures as Napoleon or The
Beatles in blackface.
In 1949 Zulu had the first celebrity carnival king when Louis
Armstrong reigned as King of the Zulus.
In the 1960s Zulu enured presure from various civil rights
organizations to disband because of its use of the negative
stereotype of blackface. Zulu continued none the less, and
is today one of the favorite parades of the Carnival season.
Zulu coconuts, coconuts which have been custom painted and
decorated by Zulu riders, are perhaps the most prized of all
the hand outs given to the crowds by New Orleans parades.
In 1993 the Zulus began their annual public Lundi Gras festivities
the day before Mardi Gras, in Woldenburg Park on the banks
of the Mississippi River beside the French Quarter. This quickly
became a popular event, and since the first one climaxes when
the kings of Rex and Zulu ceremonially greet each other.
Information provided by wikipedia.org