Mummers make strides to bring more diversity to Philadelphia tradition

Listen
 The Mummers have promised to become more diverse. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

The Mummers have promised to become more diverse. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

With its New Year’s Day parade just seven weeks away, the Mummers organization is making changes to bring more diversity to the Philadelphia tradition. 

Organizers have created a new parade division to welcome ethnic heritage groups.

During its 115-year history, the parade banned women performers and regularly used blackface. The ban and the blackface have fallen by the wayside, but the parade still attracts complaints of racial insensitivity.

After last year’s parade when some of the cross-dressing clowns known as wenches carried signs reading “Wench Lives Matter” — a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement — the city’s Commission on Human Relations got involved. It asked the Mummers to create a new division welcoming a diversity of brigades.

George Badey, a lawyer for the Mummers Association, said it eagerly complied.

“There’s a perception out there that they are not inclusive, and it’s just not true,” said Badey, a 40-year Mummer who plays saxophone with the Fralinger String Band. “I think it’s a generational thing. Sometimes young people are not as interested in being in the tradition.”

Badey says already a Chinese dragon performance troupe has signed on, as well as the San Mateo Carnavalero, a traditional Latino street performance troupe with costumes remarkably similar to those of the Mummers. That troupe has 150 marchers, and is expected to attract 1000 new spectators to the parade.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.