The history of Mardi Gras is a tale as old as time.
The masks. The quadroon balls. The high society groups. The floor length evening gowns with matching gloves and shining pearls. The matching parasols being waved high and mighty. Of course, these items do not always come to mind when celebrating Mardi Gras. Often the image that comes to mind is beads, parades, parties on Bourbon Street; one big party.
Dive beyond the gold, green, blue, and purple. Go behind the mask. Seek the untold or often overlooked story of Mardi Gras. The common misconception is that Mardi Gras was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana and has been there ever since.
Mardi Gras, the French term for “Fat Tuesday” that marks a time of indulgence before Lent and Ash Wednesday, was founded in Mobile, Alabama.
Lesley Kennedy writes in the 2019 article for History.com that “Donnelly Lancaster Walton, archivist with the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library at the University of Alabama, says though the holiday’s origin honors may be complicated, they go to Mobile. ‘Apparently, as early 1703, the French held a type of Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile,’ she says. ‘New Orleans wasn’t founded until 1718. Therefore, strictly speaking, Mobile had the earliest celebration of the two cities.’”
In the early eighteenth century, the land that bears the states known today as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, was part of the Louisiana Purchase, the land obtained from France. Mobile was the then capital of the wide stretch of land. Founded in 1702, Mobile became the birthplace in which French traditions began to be practiced, one of them being Mardi Gras.
Michael Harriot writes in his 2019 article for The Root that “many of Mobile’s carnival traditions reflect the city’s black history. Costumes and floats explore the history of Africatown, the unincorporated area of the city settled by the captives on the Clotilda, the last slave ship in America.” Many of the citizens of Mobile proudly exemplify the pride in the practice of a ritual beyond the remnants that have taken stock in popular culture.
Conjured within the mystic streets of Mobile, far and wide across the bay, Mardi Gras’ enriched history has been catalogued and preserved in several standing monuments from historically black-owned restaurants to history museums. From shades of purple, blue, green, and gold to quadroon balls, society groups, moon pies, beads, parades, parasols, and generational mystic folklore, it is undeniable that the origin of Mardi Gras thrives in Mobile, Alabama.