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Shriners float banned from Savannah's St. Patrick's Day parade

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Shriners float banned from Savannah's St. Patrick's Day parade
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
State and Regional
April 6, 1999
PM Cycle

SAVANNAH, Ga. - A float that made its first appearance in Savannah's St. Patrick Day parade this year won't be back after a spectator accused the Shriners of mocking slavery.

The 15-year-old float, shaped like a ship and named the Wanderer, featured one Shriner dressed as a buccaneer, one wearing a gorilla suit and a collar chain, and a third who held the chain.

Allan D. Austin, a Massachusetts college professor who teaches black history, said the float represented the boat named Wanderer that smuggled slaves into Georgia near Jekyll Island in 1858. The gorilla's collar and chain were similar to the shackles worn by African slaves, he said.

"This really intruded in an ugly way," Austin said. "…It all seemed to be a celebration or a parody or a 'Let's make fun' out of something that's not funny at all.'"

The Brunswick Shriners who sponsored the float said they had no idea there was a slave ship named Wanderer. The float was named after a Jekyll Island motel owned by a club member.

"It had nothing to do with racism because they didn't know a slave ship even existed by that name," said John W. Lassiter, past potentate of the Alee Shrine Temple in Savannah, which oversees the Brunswick Shrine Club. "…If we had thought it was offensive, we would have pulled it out and had it modified."

Regardless, the general chairman of the St. Patrick's Day parade committee, Joe Cetti, said the float will be prohibited from future parades.

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