NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — When we see the St. Augustine Marching 100 in the parades, we know that Mardi Gras is in full swing. But getting the band in tip-top shape to take the streets takes practice, skill, and a unit this size doesn’t come together without order.
“Holding the higher standard that St. Augustine has always had has always been centered around discipline, that’s the foremost thing,” said Class of ’81 and Director of Bands, Ray Johnson. “The most we center around here is academics.”
That discipline is important today, but it was also key back in 1967, when the Marching 100 integrated Mardi Gras, becoming the first African American band to march in the Rex parade and then director Edwin Hampton readied the troops for the historic occasion.
“I recall us having many practices where he gave us some stress and our job was to look straight ahead, concentrate on being professional, stay in line and play our instruments and do our job which was to march down those streets and not be distracted and not take any action against anything that might happen to us,” said Class of 1969’s Dwight J. Richards.
It was a time of great social change but also change in New Orleans.
“Rex wanted to take the step to have a black band in the parade and I have to give them credit for being forward-thinking,” Richards added.
The decision by the Rex organization had far-reaching effects on Carnival.
“The fact that Rex was at the forefront of that, said Dr. Kenneth St. Charles, Class of 1982. “That they had the vision to see what this would do, not only for their parade, but for all of the other krewes made a difference.”
The relationship between Rex and the high school has grown over the years through various levels of support.
Drum major Raheim Mitchell says the history of Rex and St. Aug is still meaningful.
“Just starting with the story being told to us, you can tell that they were fighting for something that was going to stay here for a long, long time,” said Class of 2022’s Mitchell. “Right now, we’re holding up a lifelong legacy.”
The integration of Mardi Gras was over 50 years ago, but Richards still gets emotional when recalling that fateful day.
“The pride you could see in faces of black people to see St. Aug, coming down that street, I think about it now… give me a minute… so to come down that street, and see all those people no matter what school they went to, many of them were our rivals,” said Richards. “They were so happy to see us representing them, that they were cheering like we were at a football game.”