For the first time ever, a Mardi Gras parade rolled through North Baton Rouge on Saturday afternoon, drawing an excited crowd to celebrate a new krewe showcasing African-American culture.
The inaugural Krewe of Oshun parade kicked off in Scotlandville at noon, followed by a festival at the Champion Medical Center. The parade theme was “Wakanda Now: Celebration, Prosperity and Expansion.” Wakanda is a fictional African country created by Marvel Comics.
Not only was this the first Mardi Gras parade in this part of the city, but it may be the first organized by an African-American organization in almost 80 years. The first Zulu parade in Baton Rouge was held in 1933 in downtown Baton Rouge, according to an article published by the LSU Libraries Special Collections. There were no white Mardi Gras parades at the time.
The Purple Circle Social Club and black employees at the Standard Oil refinery took over the parade in 1941, and an article in the Standard Oil house newspaper estimated 20,000 people attended. Parades were not held during World War II, according to the article.
Despite Saturday's fickle weather — seesawing between hot and cold, rainy and sunny — the parade was well-attended. Families, couples and small children lined the roadside near Southern University's campus, perching on the curb, resting in lawn chairs or swaying to the strains of Lizzo's 'Good as Hell' emanating from one of the floats in the distance.
"It's nice to have the parade so close," said 51-year-old Sandra Christophe. "Especially for my feet and knees!"
She said she was there to celebrate "the camaraderie" with Southern University and support the Krewe of Oshun, which she called a "welcome asset to the community."
The smallest children in attendance darted around their parents in games of tag as they waited for the festivities to begin. Some scampered into the blocked-off street, while others squealed with delight when they glimpsed a float moving into position or waved at a Mardi Gras Indian.
A young couple, Aaron and Ivie Jones, stood off to the side toward the front of the parade route, shaded by a scraggly tree. Aaron held up their one-and-a-half year old baby in his arms to see the sights, smiling as the child looked around curiously.
Aamarion Jones loves Southern University's Human Jukebox marching band, his father said, which is why they brought him that day.
"We just came out here to have a great family day," he said. "They usually don’t have [a parade] this early and around this area, so it’s great to see they finally had one."
The Jones' weren't alone in their excitement over Southern's band.
Clarence and Althea Kennedy, both retirees in their 70s who recently moved to Prairieville from Maryland, had braved the mercurial weather just to see the band.
"We saw them at the Rose Bowl," Althea Kennedy said. "And we said, they do the Rose Bowl and they do the neighborhood."
When the band finally started playing a few minutes past noon, people started cheering and laughing, eagerly crowding the medians and sidewalks to see as the floats started to roll past.
31-year-old Shawndreka Williams danced happily in the street, grinning as one of her sons moaned in embarrassment and buried his face in his sweatshirt. Williams brought her five children to the parade, along with her friend's two kids so they could see their mother on one of the floats.
"I'm most excited to see a Mardi Gras parade in my local community," Williams said. "I just love to see the smiles on everyone's faces when everyone comes together in a positive atmosphere."
As the floats passed, people waved for candy and beads, took videos on their phones and raced to rescue missed throws from the pavement.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's float led the pack. Others included a black-and-gold float featuring the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. and the East Baton Rouge Parish Library bookmobile, along with different dance teams, bands and the Baker Fire Department.
"It seems like a really nice, large parade," Williams said. "I hope that we’re able to build and grow."