By Patrick Ward
How do you celebrate a man without knowing his cause? Joe Cain, credited with the revival of Mobile, Alabama’s Mardi Gras tradition, represents both a city’s celebration and a Confederate narrative. Depicted as Chief Slacabamorinico in Mardi Gras Park in Mobile, AL, Cain represents the every-man once a year during the “People’s Parade” leading to Mardi Gras. This tradition stems from his revival of Mardi Gras during the mid-1860s, in defiance of the Northern forces positioned in Mobile after the Civil War. Parading down Government Street surrounded by the Tea Drinkers Society, also known as the “Lost Cause Minstrels,” Cain represented the continued resistance of the South, notably dressed as Chief “Slac,” a Chickasaw Chief whose tribe had never lost to the United States.
It would not be until the 1960s when Julian Rayford wrote Chasin’ the Devil Round a Stump, in which he projects Cain as the spirit of Mobilian Mardi Gras, later petitioning for Cain’s remains to be moved to Mobile and establishing Cain as the monumental figure who saved Mardi Gras. Issues with this depiction include both that of Cain’s legacy as a Confederate soldier who was followed by the Lost Cause Minstrels and Rayford’s own personal history within the South, contributing to the Stone Mountain depiction of Confederate generals. Reviewing the revival of Mardi Gras and the 1960s revival of Joe Cain, connections to the Lost Cause movement during the Civil Rights Movement stand out along the national timeline. However, in the current day, Joe Cain Day is synonymous with the People’s Parade and bringing the community together. Cain’s legacy produces a difficult dichotomy of Confederate support and local celebrations that are depicted within his statue dressed as a mythical figure who opposed the United States. Evaluating the history of how Cain and Raymond left an impression on the city is a challenging task when enjoying the festivities Mardi Gras brings Mobile’s communities.