The first New Year’s parade in Boston was a grand affair that included fireworks, elaborate floats and many marchers. But the event also had an ugly side: it featured displays of white supremacy and anti-black racism with marching bands playing “Dixie” which includes lyrics like “The South will rise again!” Haunting photos from the day show how far American race relations haven’t come since then.

The “mummers blackface” is a term that has been used to describe the parade of people who dress up in costumes and masks, and perform satirical plays. The parade has a checkered past of racist and anti-Semitic themes.

New Year's parade with checkered past of racist and anti

Mummers will perform plays and parodies in costume on the streets, but organizers and participants believe this year’s revelers will be more culturally aware.

Goodman told CNN, “There’s a worrisome history there.”

However, according to Kevin Lessard, director of communications for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the Mummers’ leadership and city authorities have put in extra precautions to address previous improper and insulting behaviour.

He noted that all trainings, skits, and performances must first be authorized by the human relations commission, and that any groups or persons found to be in violation would be barred from the Mummer’s Association and future parades.

Following concerns about some of the costumes and parodies, all Mummers started receiving cultural and racial sensitivity training in 2016. Cultural appropriation, satire standards, and LGBTQ cultural competency were among the topics covered at the workshop, according to Maita Soukup, a municipal spokesman.

Controversies of late

Some Mummers have worn blackface in recent years, despite the fact that it was prohibited in 1963 after the local NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality urged the parade’s then-director to prohibit it, according to Catherine Hicks, head of Philadelphia’s NAACP chapter. According to Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, the decision enraged many Mummers, who protested the prohibition.

Some Mummers persisted to wear blackface despite the prohibition and recent trainings. The most recent incident occurred during the procession in 2020.

Fiasco group Mummers dance on 2nd Street during night partying on January 1, 2019 in Philadelphia, during the Mummers Parade.

“Today’s usage of blackface by someone connected to Froggy Carr is repulsive and immoral. This self-centered, spiteful conduct has no place among the Mummers, much less in the city. We must be able to do better. The group has been disqualified, and we’ll be looking for extra sanctions “At the moment, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney sent out a tweet.

According to Hicks, “When it comes to the African-American community, the history of blackface is both unsettling and sensitive. People should conduct their research before dressing up as any figure, since it may offend a minority population.”

“People may think it’s a joke or that I’m dressing up as a character, but it brings up a lot of thoughts of enslavement,” she said.

Bias awareness training was part of the additional preparation for the 2022 parade, according to Soukup.

Although various concerns have arisen over the years, veteran Mummers claim that they do not affect the majority of members.

The people who wore blackface in 2020, according to Sam Regalbuto, a Mummer and the head of the String Band Association, “were two non-365-days-a-year Mummers who had a political axe to grind with lawmakers in the city of Philadelphia. They destroyed the day for all of us by using us as a platform to make their political point that day. Those people have been barred from entering the country. People with a political agenda are not welcome at our event. We have a set of regulations and bylaws that we adhere to.”

A local and familial custom

According to the Mummers Museum, European immigrants from Scandinavian nations and England introduced mummery to the United States in the 17th century.

Since 1901, the parade has been sponsored by the city of Philadelphia.

According to the city’s visitors website, the Mummers are comprised of more than “40 organized clubs, categorized into five divisions that each have their own performance specialty, and compete against each other for bragging rights, the Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades.”

Regalbuto, a native of Philadelphia, has been a member of the procession for 35 years.

“It’s a long-standing family custom. My father and uncles marched in parades and brigades “he said

“I have a creative edge, and I get to utilize it because I like creating. I like ensuring that we bring smiles to people’s faces. We’re a hobby that’s really family-oriented and welcoming… I’d want to be able to do that and raise my kid in such an environment “Regalbuto elaborated.

He said that the parade had progressed since the days when blackface was prevalent.

“That period was distinct; it was incorrect then, and it is incorrect today. That kind of entertainment is unnecessary.”

“Fantasy stuff, Pirates of the Caribbean, wizardry, Halloween type stuff, we pull a lot from movies, space,” Regalbuto said, adding that the Mummers are moving away from celebrating different cultures and ethnicities and instead celebrating “fantasy stuff, Pirates of the Caribbean, wizardry, Halloween type stuff, we pull a lot from movies, space.”

He claims, however, that they have always worked hard to guarantee that no one is insulted.

“If we have religious elements, we make sure we reach out to individuals to make sure we’re doing it in a festive manner so we’re not offending anybody,” Regalbuto added.

“Everyone is welcome… we’re adapting and learning.”

The String Band Association planned to conduct a homage to “Fiddler on the Roof,” a drama about Jewish life in a town in twentieth-century Russia, Regalbuto stated a few years ago. His group met with a Jewish organization to decide what they should do and say during the procession.

Melissa MacNair, co-chair of the Vaudevillians New York Band, said she is aware of prior Mummer parades’ cultural clichés.

“We’ve all seen stereotypes and things that we don’t agree with. Mummers, for the most part, are good-hearted folks “she said

Mummers, according to MacNair, have benefited from the mandatory cultural and racial awareness trainings.

“I’m glad the city has opened the door to the discussion, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

The procession begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

“While municipal health authorities recommend that all parade participants and spectators be vaccinated, it is not a requirement. All parade participants along the parade route are required by local health standards to wear masks “A city official, Soukup, said CNN.

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The “mummers blackface 2020” is a New Year’s parade that has a checkered past of racist and anti-Semitic imagery. The parade is scheduled to take place in Philadelphia on January 1st, 2020.

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