Mardi Gras Along the Gulf Coast
Laissez les bons temps rouler! From Galveston to Mobile, Mardi Gras is celebrated all along the Gulf Coast—making Mississippi the best of both worlds.
- By Maurice Singleton
Mardi Gras can be traced back to medieval Europe in the late 1600s in Italy, picked up in France, then passed on through French colonization to the United States.
The history of Mardi Gras in the United States is traced back to two events, both involving the explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur Bienville. Bienville arrived on a plot of land sixty miles south of New Orleans on March 2, 1699 – the first of the two events. Realizing that the arrival date was Lundi Gras, he named the area “Pointe du Mardi Gras.”
The second event was Bienville’s arrival to an area he dubbed “Fort Louis de la Mobile” in 1702. Today, this area is known as Mobile, Alabama, and this area officially celebrated its first Mardi Gras in 1703.
New Orleans was established in 1718, and by the 1730s, Mardi Gras was widely celebrated with balls and parties. The version of Mardi Gras with parades, masked revelers, gaslight torches, and carriages driven by horses can be traced back to the late 1830s. Mardi Gras throws first appeared in 1870 by the Krewe of the Twelfth Night Revelers.
In 1872, a group of New Orleans businessmen created a King of Carnival, Rex, who would preside over the Mardi Gras daytime parade. This is the same year that purple, gold, and green became the official colors of the holiday, as Rex paid tribute to the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, whose family colors were purple, gold, and green.
The first Mardi Gras celebration to be held in Mississippi was held in 1908, when the first Gulf Coast Carnival Association parade rolled through the streets of Biloxi on Fat Tuesday. That parade featured a 12-man Herald Newspaper band, 17 floats, a grand marshal, the mayor and city councilmen, and fifty flambeau carriers.
Other Coast cities followed Biloxi’s lead and established their own Mardi Gras traditions. In 1966, the wheels starting turning for an all-female Mardi Gras organization in Hancock County. In 1967, less than a year after the idea was first conceived, the first Krewe of Nereids ball and parade were held. 56 years later, the Krewe of Nereids parade is one of the largest attendance draws of the Mardi Gras season as it rolls two Sundays before Fat Tuesday.
The Krewe of Real People is another Mardi Gras organization in Hancock County. Founded by the African American community in the 1980s and established by the families of Mardi Gras enthusiasts, it followed in the footsteps of the Merry Makers and other earlier Mardi Gras clubs in Hancock County. The Krewe of Real People Next Generation took over the helm in 2018, and this year they are celebrating their fifth anniversary as a krewe (they skipped 2021 due to the pandemic).
Mardi Gras has deep roots from Galveston to Mobile, making the Mississippi Gulf Coast the perfect place to celebrate.
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