Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans

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Mardi Gras remains one of the most distinctive features of New Orleans. Although the city has celebrated Carnival since its days as a French and Spanish colonial outpost, the rituals familiar today were largely established in the Civil War era by a white male elite. In fact, the men behind the masks on the parade floats and at the Mardi Gras balls have kept the spirit of the Confederacy alive. They have put artistry and erudition into their Carnival displays while harboring a virulent racism that has led to violence and massacre. Because the Mardi Gras organizations have remained secret societies, their role in the white supremacist cause has not been fully recorded, until now.

Lords of Misrule is the first book to explore the effects of Mardi Gras on the social and political development of New Orleans, the first to analyze recent attempts to end racial segregation within the organizations that stage the annual festivities.

The history of Carnival is so intertwined with the history of New Orleans that the story cannot be told without a social, economic, and political context. Lords of Misrule examines the often-bloody history of segregation and documents the role of the Carnival fraternity and the controversy aroused by attempts to desegregate Mardi Gras.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Less a history of Mardi Gras than a view of New Orleans through the lens of that all-consuming celebration of social hierarchy that shows how intertwined are carnival's charms with the misdeeds of the ruling class that invented it.

"New Orleans's pride is that it is unlike any other American city, which is also its undoing," writes Gill, a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The evolution of America's most promising and industrious antebellum port into a seedy, second-rate city notable primarily for the flamboyant means by which it has flouted conventional morality (through legal prostitution, corrupt and defiant governments, and a closed social order that holds racial and ethnic exclusion more dear than economic prosperity) presents a decadent legacy rivaling the drunken riot of Mardi Gras itself. Though he frames the book with firsthand reporting of Councilwoman Dorothy Mae Taylor's 1991 attempt to adopt an ordinance mandating the integration of the private clubs that stage carnival parades, Gill devotes three-quarters of his text to exploring how members of the secretive old-line krewes, formed in the years surrounding the Civil War, directed that evolution. In the process, he sketches the intricate schematics underlying what he aptly dubs "the annual reaffirmation of social eminence over merit." What looks to outsiders like a chaotic street party is in fact a highly orchestrated social dance allowing the upper crust to establish their pecking order in public (albeit at masked balls hosted by secret societies) while spreading a little pre-Lenten cheer to the common folk. Relying mostly on old newspaper accounts, Gill forges a double-edged portrayal of Mardi Gras that, on one hand, captures the drama and romance of carnivals past and, on the other, unflinchingly details the bitter racial division it still fosters.

Scrupulously evenhanded—a lively, irony-loving illumination of the politics and history of America's rowdiest street celebration.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780878059164
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 933,287
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The Old South on Parade 3
Ch. 2 The Rise and Fall of French Carnival 27
Ch. 3 Comus Dons Confederate Gray 59
Ch. 4 The Krewes and the Klan 77
Ch. 5 The Battle of Liberty Place 109
Ch. 6 Confederate Krewemen Rise Again 123
Ch. 7 "Who Killa da Chief?" 145
Ch. 8 Honoring the White League Martyrs 155
Ch. 9 Comus and the Kingfish 175
Ch. 10 Krewes Come Marching Home Again 193
Ch. 11 Miserable Krewes 221
Ch. 12 Guess Who's Coming to Rex 247
Ch. 13 The Second Battle of Liberty Place 259
Ch. 14 The Biter Bit 279
Bibliographic Notes 283
Index 291
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  • Posted March 1, 2010

    The History of Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

    James Gill is a reporter and editorial writer for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the city's daily newspaper. He writes with accurate historical background as well as the perspective of a local reporter who has lived through the later events detailed in the book. James gives us the gritty, unexplored background on the origins of Mardi Gras as well as its evolving character in modern times, an event inextricably associated with New Orleans. This is what you need to know if you would begin to understand our city.

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