Brooklyn Carnival: Breakaway on the Parkway

Photographer Sol McCants captures the energy and spirit of Brooklyn’s Labour Day Carnival

Official name:

The West Indian American Day Carnival Association Labour Day Parade


Labour Day — the first Monday in September


The granddaddy of all Caribbean celebrations in North America, the Labour Day Parade is the crown of a week-long series of activities celebrating Caribbean history, culture, and the contribution to the community in the United States


Trinidadian Jessie Waddle, with the help of some West Indian friends, started the Carnival in Harlem in the 1930s by staging costume parties in large enclosed places like the Savoy, Renaissance, and Audubon Ballrooms, due to the cold wintry weather of February. This is the usual time for the pre-Lenten celebrations held in most countries around the world. However, because of the very nature of Carnival and the need to parade in costume to music, indoor confinement did not work.

The earliest known Carnival street activity was held during the 1940s, when Waddle secured the first street permit for a parade on the streets of Harlem. During the 1960s, another Trinidadian — Rufus Goring — brought Carnival to Brooklyn. In 1967, Goring passed the reins over to Carlos Lezama, who later became president of WIADCA and who nurtured the organisation and carnival celebrations till 2001, when, due to his ill-health, he retired, and his daughter, Yolanda Lezama-Clark, was elected president. Both lived in Trinidad during their formative years.

The Labour Day Carnival has grown over the years from thousands of participants and tourists to over 3.5 million people in attendance since the mid-1990s, according to then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The influx of tourists from all over the world has benefited New York City on an economic level, most recognisably with large corporations, small businesses, and the tourist/service industry.

Source: The West Indian American Day Carnival Association. For more information, visit www.wiadca.com