Monday, March 16, 2009

Indians a'comin...

Madame Queen


Spy Boy Fifty years late, a child of the Third Ward connects with the roots of his cultural heritage
20 March 2005

By Gregory Alan Gross©05

Every spring, the Mardi Gras Indians, the Black Indians of New Orleans, hit the streets for their neighborhood parades — but after more than fifty springs, I ’d yet to see them.

You couldn’t be a black child in 1950s New Orleans and not hear about the Indians. But these were gangs, rivals, often armed. My family kept me away from them, but not their fascination.
In a land where few black men risked open defiance of white authority, the Indians defied ALL authority. I knew that one day, I would see them. I had to see them.

The wish would be fulfilled in March 2005 at the old Shakespeare Park, on the corner of Washington and LaSalle, across the street from the Magnolia housing projects.

The Indians won’t show up until evening, but folks are lining the route by noon. Grownups bring folding chairs. Little boys ride their father’s shoulders. Little girls hold their mother’s hand.

The older boys are out in their urban uniform, loose white T–shirts and/or sports jerseys, baggy pants or shorts. The girls are out, too, with shining black hair pulled back tight into short ponytails, skin–tight blouses, cotton pedal–pushers, denim miniskirts.

Guys are selling cold sodas and beer from ice chests carried on children’s little red wagons.

Others are cooking up everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to pork chops and gumbo on barbecue grills mounted on the backs of pickup trucks.

Somebody’s blasting music from a boombox. There’s also music for sale, bootleg CD’s made by loud, wide–eyed kids with dreams of fame, fortune and escape.

Suddenly, a cry from down the block pierces the air:

“Indians comin’!”

One after another, strutting down the middle of the avenue, surrounded by helpers, followers and the inevitable “second line.” The air is filled with the pop–and–jingle of tambourines and thick, staccato rhythm of drums.

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