• Leah Clark Brisard

NYC's Carnival History


Carnival was born in Harlem in the late 1920’s as “get together’s” in the living rooms and basements of West Indians/Caribbeans immigrants which eventually grew large enough to expand to the Grand Ballrooms of the Renaissance, Audubon, Savoy and other Ballrooms in the form of indoor “costume parties” presented by West Indian immigrants who were “homesick” at Carnival time and tried to recreate their Carnival traditions here in the USA as they remembered in their home countries of Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and St. Vincent, as the very cold Lenten Season approached. In the early 1940’s, led by Trinidadian, Ms. Jessie Wardell, the West Indian Carnival was brought onto the Streets in Harlem. After a number of years, the rapidly growing spectacle attracted opposing groups and was finally stopped in 1964. Rufus Gorin, a Trinidadian costume maker made his own “bat” costume and paraded indoors in his hallway in 1928. After that, he continued making costumes for in-door parties for many years until he started producing costumes for Harlem Carnival. After moving to Brooklyn, Gorin staged a small carnival in Brooklyn in 1966. However, he did not have a “permit” and the authorities stopped the celebration. Goring enlisted the help of his friend, Trinidadian Carlos Lezama, a very ‘strong willed’ steel pan player who was also determined, ambitious and charismatic and who never took NO for an answer. The West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) was established in Brooklyn in 1967 under Mr. Lezama and a handful of dedicated members. He was re-elected many times during his 34 year presidency. In 2001, his daughter Yolanda Lezama-Clark was elected as President and served for 10 years. In 2012, Thomas Bailey was elected and served till 2015. In 2016, William R. Howard was elected President and Angela Sealy, the only remaining member of the founding group of WIADCA members was elected Chairperson. Its roster of membership is presently over 60 and range from the very young to senior citizens - all volunteers.

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