NPR

In New Orleans, The Fight Over Blackface Renews Scrutiny Of A Mardi Gras Tradition

Every year, African-American members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club paint their faces black for the city's Mardi Gras celebrations. Now, they're facing calls to end the practice.
King Zulu waves to the crowds from his float on Mardi Gras day on Feb. 24, 2009 in New Orleans. The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club is facing criticism for its tradition of wearing black face makeup during Mardi Gras. Source: Chris Graythen

This Tuesday's Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans has thrust into the spotlight a controversial local tradition dating back more than 100 years.

Every year, members of the city's Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club don grass skirts, feather headdresses and bone jewelry for the Mardi Gras parade.

The Zulus' African-American members — and even some of their white members — also paint their faces black.

The practice has been an oddity existing in plain sight since the

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