By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — Some people in Mobile like to brag that Alabama’s port city held the first Mardi Gras celebration in 1703 and the first formally organized Mardi Gras parade in the United States in 1830.
But there is little doubt that it was New Orleans that made Mardi Gras world famous, and it is a far more culturally inclusive affair with more artistic sophistication.
When I lived and worked in New Orleans from 2000-2004, I found that nearly everybody in the city was somehow fully involved in Mardi Gras. For the past three years spending time in Mobile, for many residents it just seems like more of a traffic hazard to be avoided.
For tourists looking for the most raucous and humorous of Mardi Gras events, New Orleans has its Krewe Du Vieux, noted for wild satire, adult themes and political comedy, as well as for showcasing some of the best brass and jazz bands in the Crescent City.
The closest equivalent in Mobile is the Comic Cowboys krewe, which has become a lightening rod for criticism for it’s sometimes tasteless, racist floats and signs, sometimes giving the city itself something of a “black eye.”
While some of their satirical fare this year came close to hitting the mark making fun of President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, some of their attempts at humor seemed downright juvenile, tasteless and racist.
So much so that Mobile City Council member Fred Richardson is calling for the city’s attorney to investigate the Comic Cowboys’ parade practices.
While it is not clear what, if anything, the city can officially do about it, since the First Amendment protects all kinds of speech, even racist speech, the subject is scheduled to come up at the city council meeting Tuesday March 7, and some offended parties are planning to show up in mass to protest.
Richardson says his office received numerous complaints about this year’s parade, so he wrote a letter and plans to take it up at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We at the city received many complaints from our citizens,” Richardson’s letter reads in part. “They want to know, what is the city going to do about it. Well, we certainly can do something if any city laws were violated or if at least five council members agree on some sort of amendment to existing laws.”
Some of the most controversial signs in the Comic Cowboys parade targeted Mobile City Council Member C.J. Small, the city of Prichard and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Tim Hollis signed up to speak at the upcoming city council meeting about the parade. He wants the Comic Cowboys to be held accountable.
“A lot of tourists were here in the city and they were baffled by what they were seeing,” Hollis said, “I want to to ask them (council members) if there’s any kind of carnival advisory board is in place, and if there isn’t, can there be one instated?”
In coverage by the local CBS affiliate television news station WKRG News 5, the Cowboys’ signs were described as displaying “jarring observations about life and politics on the Gulf Coast — some funny, some offensive, some falling in a grey area of both … some think the Cowboys have gone too far this year with multiple signs serving up racist messages. Posts and photos of multiple signs went viral online, and News 5 inboxes received multiple concerns about the signs directed at Prichard and the African American community.”
One sign targeted City Councilman C.J. Small, satirizing his trip to Africa last year where he got shot in the face. The sign read, “C.J. Why Africa? It’s cheaper to get shot right here.”
Small says the sign’s message is far from fun and games.
“Could have got shot right here — that should be more of an embarrassment among the chief of police and and the mayor,” Small said. “Because the mayor has stated he will have Mobile the ‘safest and friendliest city’ by 2020.”
Small says while some signs may be offensive and blatantly racist, it’s still free speech.
What do you think?
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.