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Protesters go after 110-year-old group's Mardi Gras tradition of black makeup

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/22/2019 Ashley May
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Protesters are going after a group that has been wearing black makeup for decades during Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, saying members of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club are wearing blackface.

Worth noting: Many of the group's members are black, and are standing by the tradition.

Take Em Down NOLA, a group dedicated to removing "all symbols of white supremacy in New Orleans," held a news conference Thursday, demanding the Zulu club end its 110-year-old tradition of "donning blackface."

"It is no longer tenable for Zulu to pretend that wearing blackface is not reinforcing racist stereotyping of black people," activist Malcolm Suber said, New Orleans's WWL-TV reports.

a group of people wearing costumes: In this March 4, 2014 file photo, members of the Krewe of Zulu hold painted coconuts to give to parade-goers, as they march during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc. In this March 4, 2014 file photo, members of the Krewe of Zulu hold painted coconuts to give to parade-goers, as they march during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club says its makeup for its Mardi Gras float riders and dancers is not the same as blackface, and instead is meant to "honor their ancestry." The group said in a statement its costumes are meant to look like garments worn by South African Zulu Warriors and "bear no resemblance" to blackface minstrel performers, the origins of blackface

The Zulu group has long had the support of prominent community members including former mayors Marc Morial and Mitch Landrieu. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong even served as Zulu king for the parade in 1949. He called the title a “life long ambition.”

More: Blackface, KKK hoods and mock lynchings: Review of 900 yearbooks finds blatant racism

a close up of a persons face: A Zulu member leads the way during the 2018 Mardi Gras day parade in New Orleans. © Gerald Herbert, AP A Zulu member leads the way during the 2018 Mardi Gras day parade in New Orleans.

But, this isn't the first time the Zulu group has been criticized for its black face makeup. In the 1960s, many black organizations protested against Zulu makeup and grass skirts. During that time, the group lost favor in the community and saw a dip in membership, according to its website

"Some traditions are bad traditions," Suber told NOLA Media Group

Take Em Down NOLA has also led protests against the appearance of confederate statues in New Orleans. 

More: Blackface, explained: Why Ralph Northam, Mark Herring and others darkening their faces is such a big deal

More: Blackface shoes and Holocaust T-shirts: Fashion brands' most controversial designs

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Protesters go after 110-year-old group's Mardi Gras tradition of black makeup

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