Faces in the Crowd: The Zulu Tramps
Project info

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is one of the many benevolent organizations formed by African Americans in the early 19th century to provide financial help to sick members and financial aid for the families of deceased members. This was the earliest and only insurance available to many African Americans due to segregation and cultural differences. A group of laborers formed one such club, "The Tramps" in 1909. Legend has it that the members saw a musical comedy entitled "There Never Was and There Never Will be a King Like Me," about the Zulu Tribe. They retired to their meeting place on Perdido Street and emerged as Zulus. The organization began to parade on Mardi Gras day as early as 1901, but their first appearance as Zulus came in 1909. Today, the tradition continues and the memory of one of these founding groups, "The Tramps" is honored by this special group of characters who lead the Zulu parade each Mardi Gras morning. Their colorful and ornate costumes are frequently expressions of self and in many ways a tie to the Caribbean and African heritage that so prevalent in New Orleans history and culture. They stand in stark contrast to the original Tramps who paraded in ragged and tattered clothes. During the 1960's, the height of Black awareness, it was unpopular to be a Zulu. Many viewed wearing black face and wearing grass skirts as demeaning and the organization dwindled to 16 members (Black face dates back to the organization's founding as the performers in the skit wore black face and wore grass skirts.) The club survived and today is over 500 members strong and counts as one of its former Kings, none other than New Orleans' most famous native son, Louis Armstrong. Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club continues to provide support to its community, working with charities and educational institutions throughout the city. These portraits are representative of the Tramps as they parade through the streets of the Crescent City.