Laborers in New Orleans in the late 19th Century often belonged to Benevolent Societies which were the first forms of insurance in the Black community. For a small amount of dues, members received financial help when sick or financial aid when burying deceased members. During the same era, the city was divided into wards, and each ward had its own group or “Club.” Early in 1909, a group of laborers organized a club named “The Tramps,” which became a benevolent society called the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club in 1909. This year is, then, the 100th Anniversary of Zulu.
Membership in this historic organization in the black community of New Orleans is diverse, with members from all walks of life–from laborers, City Mayor, City Councilmen, and State Legislators, to United States Congressman, educators, and men of other professions. The Zulu organization is proud of its standing in the local community, but also takes pride in its national and international standing. New Orleans native Louis Armstorn once said that being named King Zulu 1949 was the greatest honor of his life.
And of all the throws from all the floats in the parades during carnival, the Zulu coconut or “Golden Nugget” is the most sought after. The earliest reference to the coconut appears to be about 1910 when the coconuts were given from the floats in their natural “hairy” state. Some years later there is a reference to Lloyd Lucus, “the sign painter,” scraping and painting the coconuts which was the forerunner to the beautifully decorated coconuts we see today.
So popular is the coconut that when lawsuits for injuries from this substantial throws prevented Zulu from getting insurance coverage in 1987 and they stopped the tradition, the next year the Louisiana Legislature passed SB188, aptly dubbed the “Coconut Bill,” which excluded Zulu from liability for alleged injuries arising from the coconuts handed from the floats.
Last year, a special coconut was commissioned by Zulu for President Obama.
On Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) Zulu stages a festival on the banks of the Mississippi River with food vendors, local musicians such as Kermit Ruffin, Amanada Shaw, Charmaine Neville and the Rebirth Brass Band, a craft fair, second lines with Zulu parade characters and the arrival of the Zulu King along with his entourage by U.S. Coast Guard Cutter at 5:00pm. The Zulu King and Queen then join Rex, the head of New Orleans’ prestigious local parade composed primarily of white business men, at the French Quarter riverfront and exchange toasts with each other and the Mayor to kick off the final round of pre-Lenten celebration.