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West Indian Carnival

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Eastern Pkwy Brooklyn NY USA

On Labor Day weekend, the annual West Indian Carnival fills the streets of Brooklyn with an explosion of color, music and performing arts. The sounds of steel bands and calypso, the sweet aromas of Caribbean food and the elaborate, brightly colored mas costumes transport the crowd from New York in September to the Caribbean before Lent. The central event of the carnival is the spectacular parade of costumes and floats that processes down Eastern Parkway. The West Indian Carnival continues a long tradition of Caribbean celebrations of Carnival in New York City. As early as the 1920s, immigrants from the Caribbean Islands, primarily Trinidadians, organized small celebrations in private ballrooms around Harlem in the style of traditional pre-Lenten carnivals held each winter in their native countries. The first official outdoor parades began in 1947 under the leadership of Trinidadian Jesse Waddle who organized a street festival along 7th Avenue in Harlem on Labor Day weekend. The parade grew substantially through the next 20 years, but in 1964, the Carnival lost its parade permit in Harlem due to an incident of violence and Civil Rights tension. After the move to Brooklyn, leaders of the Carnival founded the West Indian Day Carnival Association, the organizing force behind the Carnival activities today. Under Carlos Lezama's leadership, the Carnival blossomed into the largest festival in the world, attracting between 1 and 2 million people from around the world each year. The Carnival certainly isn't identical to its Trinidadian predecessors, and organizers stress the inclusive nature of the Carnival. This is evident just from watching the parade, where a mishmash of costumes, traditions and flags from all around the Caribbean. Trinidadians, Haitians, Jamaicans, African-Americans and many more people of Caribbean descent join together with the diverse Brooklyn neighborhood and all of New York to celebrate the vibrant Carnival tradition.

Credits: Photos by Martha Cooper. Consultant, Les Slater. Music from "My Time," CASYM Steel Orchestra. (1:45)