The Philadelphia Mummers: Building Community through Play

By Patricia Anne Masters | Go to book overview

3 Blacks, Women, and the
“New” Immigrants
The Mummers and Diversity

The Mummers Parade is the most populous, unspoiled, energetic,
uncorrupted annual folk festival on earth today. Today is the dead-
line for entries for the New Year’s Day 1985 parade. The City
Department of Recreation must decide who will march, a difficult
task. Some groups have waited years for the opportunity.… The
character of the Mummers Parade is immensely diverse. It is deeply
rooted in history, neighborhood traditions, family life and public and
private symbolism throughout the entire Philadelphia region. Yet that
character is, in fact though not in rules, flawed by a tradition of
exclusion… absolutely contrary to the sense of joy, pride, and gen-
erosity of spirit that is the rich heart of the festival. Moving slowly
and under pressure, in 1964 the city banned blackface, long a tradi-
tional mummers style, as intolerably condescending and demeaning
to black people. In the last few years, a handful of women have
begun to appear in the marching groups.… In the late 1920s, nos-
talgists recall, an all-black string band marched for a year or two.
An occasional black marches in regular units. Many of the non-
costumed bands that accompany the fancy brigades are partly or
entirely black. None of that diminishes the fact of exclusion
.

Philadelphia Inquirer (1984)

Controversies surrounding inclusion, exclusion, race, and gender, have followed the Mummers throughout their long history. The Inquirer editorial quoted above is one of many calls for diversity in the annual parade. Few would argue against including all of Philadelphia’s ethnic groups in a parade that welcomes the New Year. Yet it may not be fair to accuse the Mummers of a deliberate effort to exclude others from “their” parade. Such criticisms, with their underlying accusations of racism or sexism, fail to take into account the history of the parade.

-69-

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