For most people, Mardi Gras is spent either on a float throwing beads and trinkets or on the other side, eagerly receiving beads and trinkets. Then there are those who work that day. Such has been Jimmie L. Felder’s Mardi Gras since 2006. As Zulu’s Parade Chairman, he was in charge of the Zulu parade as it rolled, ensuring there were no complications. This year, Felder is taking a break, so to speak. Instead of worrying about (though I think he still will be) and supervising the parade, Felder will be riding in it as King Zulu. His Queen is his daughter, Ilana Felder-Jefferson.
Even though he’s not running the Zulu parade this year, that’s not to say he doesn’t have a busy schedule. For example: On Twelfth Night (Jan. 6, the night that kicks off Carnival), Felder was expected at the Mayor’s King Cake party at Gallier Hall and then later to meet former kings for dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse. But one gets the feeling that he doesn’t mind this hectic schedule and enjoys his royal responsibilities.
Felder and his daughter are participating in a Mardi Gras tradition that has deep roots in the city, starting in 1909 when Zulu was founded. The group evolved out of a group of laborers who organized a club called “The Tramps,” many of whom belonged to Benevolent Aid Societies. Members paid dues to these groups as a form of insurance for hard times and funerals. Since then, the parade has grown, and to many it’s not Mardi Gras unless you’re handed a treasured decorated coconut from Zulu. (Coconuts first appeared about 1910. Due to fears of law suits based on people getting injured by coconuts, a law passed in 1988 by the Louisiana Legislature, informally called the “Coconut Bill,” excluded the coconut from liability for alleged injuries caused when it was handed from the float.) Like other krewes, Zulu has a hierarchy, with positions, called “characters,” including: King, the ruler; Queen (selected by the King); Big Shot, who tries to upstage the King; Witch Doctor, who makes sure the Gods provide for good weather on Mardi Gras day; and other characters, some based on government positions, who’re competing against each other to try to – but never succeed to – “out do” the King: Ambassador, Mayor, Province Prince, Governor and Mr. Big Stuff.
Technically, Felder isn’t King until the Zulu Ball on Fri. Feb. 12 (right now he’s King-Elect). But be sure to see him and his daughter reign on Tues. Feb. 16. Is Felder excited? You bet – Felder’s slogan as King Zulu is “A King for All.”
Born (and raised): New Orleans, “70128” Resides: Eastern New Orleans Family: Widower; Two daughters: Kiala and Ilana; two grandchildren (a boy and a girl) Education: George Washington Carver High School; attended Southern University, where he studied business administration, with a minor in accounting; Delgado Community College, where he studied business. Profession: Retired, Manager of the U.S. Postal Service Favorite book: Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America – and What We Can Do About It, by Juan Williams. Favorite movies: I like Westerns – not one in particular. Favorite TV show: I like sports. Favorite music/musician: Off the top of my head, Luther Vandross. Favorite food: I love fish. Ice cream – especially pralines and cream. Occasionally a hot sausage sandwich. Favorite restaurant: Houston’s. I get the prime rib, creamed spinach and stuffed potato. Favorite vacation: Hawaii Hobby: I love fishing. I also bowl, play pool/billiards, ping pong, you name it.
How long have you been a member of Zulu? 28 years.
Before becoming King, have you had any other positions within the Zulu organization? I’ve been Big Shot and Governor. I’ve been in quite a few positions in the organization, and one of the key positions since Hurricane Katrina, I’ve been the parade chairman.
The King of Zulu is selected in an election. How many people did you run against? I ran against five other guys – and it seemed like a landslide. I received 279 votes out of 479 votes. The membership came out for me and gave me their support. The election is the fourth Sunday in May, and that will determine who is King for the following year.
You start campaigning right after Mardi Gras.
How does someone infer to the Zulu members, “I want to be Zulu”? We have a democratic society. We vote for it. Right now, the rules are you have to be a member for two years, then you can throw your hat into the ring for the election.
And the King selects his Queen. And my daughter Ilana Felder-Jefferson is my Queen.
Do you have any special throws this year? I’m having a doubloon made that will be only given to special people.
You’ve been in charge of the parade since 2006. What are you looking forward to this year? During previous Mardi Gras, I would be at the start at Jackson and Claiborne avenues, then after the parade started, [I’d] get in a police car and go to the end. I was really all over the place … in constant contact with the command post and the police, making sure the parade ran smoothly.
This year I’m looking forward to riding – I’m looking for good weather and having a great time!
What does Zulu and Mardi Gras mean to the city of New Orleans? It’s a great help; very important to help our economy. Mardi Gras gives us a chance to relax and breathe a little bit. And this is why it was so important to get our Mardi Gras back after Hurricane Katrina. To encourage the people who loved the city – we take our bumps and bruises like everyone else – we needed to show that we could come back.
Mardi Gras will, and always will be, something good for this city.
What are some of the Zulu community outreach programs? Our club is a very civic organization. We will visit Touro and Children’s hospitals during Carnival season. Zulu contributes to Toys for Tots and we give out Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets, and refurbish parks.
True Confession: I enjoy life.