Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge has had a long and spotty history. For the most part, it wasn’t really celebrated here. The earliest celebrations were a mix of Mardi Gras and celebration of the Washington Fire Company’s organization in 1836. These events were held on Washington’s Birthday, February 22nd, regardless of the date of Mardi Gras. The last of these celebrations took place in 1857.
Following the Civil War, the Firemen’s Parade enjoyed a brief but ultimately unsuccessful revival in 1867 and 1868. It took another five years without parades before the Washington and the newly established Independence fire companies cooperated to revive the annual Firemen’s Parade and Mardi Gras in 1873.
An article in February 22, 1912 edition of The New Advocate stated the Firemen’s Parade was to Baton Rouge what Mardi Gras was to New Orleans. Unlike Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Firemen’s Parade in Baton Rouge fizzled out within three years.
Between 1916 and 1932 Baton Rouge did without large, public Mardi Gras celebrations. Those who wanted to participate went to New Orleans, with the exception of a few kindergarten groups who put on in-house celebrations. All that changed in 1933.
For the first time in Baton Rouge history, an all African-American Krewe held the first ZULU parade in 1933. By 1935 the ZULU King arrived at the Louisiana & Arkansas railroad station, proceeded to the Knights of Pythias Hall on South Thirteenth Street where the King meet his Queen. The parade continued to North Boulevard and Third Street, proceeded up Third to Main Street, out Main to Dufrocq, down Dufrocq to Government, and back to South Thirteenth Street. In addition to the parade, the Krewe held a matinee dance followed later in the evening by a grand ball.
At that time there were no white Krewes in town holding public events.
ZULU parades continued through 1940. In 1941, the Purple Circle Social Club took over organizing the parade. Their King Ugandi, named after what was then a British protectorate in East Africa, led the parade. The March 6, 1941 edition of The Stanocolan, house newspaper for the Standard Oil refinery in Baton Rouge, carried a two-page, photographically illustrated report of the parade. In the article they estimate 20,000 people were on hand to view the parade.
Unfortunately, the United States entered World War Two in December 1941 and all Mardi Gras events stopped.