The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce that we have been awarded a Basic Preservation Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation. This grant will assure the preservation of two 8mm films from the Robert S. and Lillie Mae Green collection depicting African American Carnival Balls from 1955 and 1956.
Robert Green was a photographer in New Orleans, and the film collection is comprised of his home movies depicting African American life in the city from the 1950s-1970s. They are among some of the most requested audiovisual items in our collections, and have until now been largely inaccessible to researchers.
The films selected for preservation record the rich tradition of Carnival costuming and performance integral to the fabric of New Orleans life. They show members of Mardi Gras clubs or “krewes” entering a decorated venue and displaying their themed costumes. In one instance, the theme is “Symphony Variations,” and the women wear white gowns. In another, it is “Satan’s Inferno,” and participants wear devil costumes. There are shots of dancing, and a live (silent) performance from Louis Jordan and his band. There are also images of a parade, including marching bands and several floats, one carrying a banner which reads “Krewe of Klaver,” an ostensible reference to the African American Catholic lay organization Knights of Peter Claver. Other krewes depicted have been tentatively identified as the Jolly Bunch and Young Men’s Illinois Club.
Carnival krewe balls have traditionally been private affairs, closed to outsiders. Film of an African American krewe in particular is an even rarer visual record, and many krewes are no longer in existence. Hurricanes Betsy (1965) and Katrina (2005) flooded neighborhoods where African American Carnival traditions were most concentrated, rendering footage such as that depicted in these films truly rare. This grant will allow us to create new preservation masters of the films, safeguarding them for generations to come. In addition, new viewing copies will also be created to be made available to researchers.
Posted by Brenda Flora.
Photograph from the Amistad Research Center.