When Isaac “Mr. Ike” Edward sat in a chair on Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard watching the 2015 and 2016 Uptown Indian Super Sunday parades, his continued love of the culture beamed from his presence and smile. Though he hadn’t masked Indian since he went into the military in 1952, Mr. Ike cherished his memories and continued to keep his needle and thread busy creating patches for his youthful “adopted” gang, the Young Guardians of the Flame. Black Indians in the colorful procession stopped to pay their respects to the elderly Mr. Ike, shaking their tambourines and his hand. Isaac “Mr. Ike” Edward, the oldest known Mardi Gras Indian, died on Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at the age of 94.
As a teenager, Edward initially masked with the first Indian gang, the Creole Wild West, then led by the renowned Brother Tillman, who was his Uptown neighbor. Edward rose to the position of flagboy with the tribe, an active role he loved. But he, along with about 15 or 20 other Indians, became discouraged with the Creole Wild West as its aging chief began hitting the streets later and later on Carnival day.
“You know, we were young and we wanted to come out early in the morning,” Edward explained in a 2002 interview. So he and the others left the gang to join the Golden Blades. That association lasted just one year before Edward, with the now-legendary Robert “Robbe” Lee and Lawrence Fletcher, established the White Eagles, of which he became Second Chief. This influential gang, which was formed in 1948 at an Uptown barroom, spawned a host of other gangs and has been led by such notables as Donald Harrison, Sr., Jake Millon and Eugene “Junior” Thomas.
“Everybody from the neighborhood used to mask with us,” remembered Edward of the gang that once boasted as many as 50 to 60 members. Yet, as one of Edward’s final requests he was quoted saying, “I don’t want to be remembered as a Second Chief, I want to be remembered as a Big Flag.”
“We used to love to be out there naked—with just an arm band, no shirts or nothing,” Edward once said with a laugh. “Crowns were made from turkey feathers purchased from local poultry stores. If they got white ones they’d dye them various colors. Indians headed to junkyards to shear off decorations from old beaded dresses to use for their designs. They’d decorate their tennis shoes with little bells so you could hear Indians coming for three or four blocks.”
As an ancestor, Edward takes with him a portion of the collective memory of the Black Indian Nation. Fortunately for all, he passed on many of his recollections, like White Eagle member Bernard Lomax writing the now classic song “Shallow Water” that he sang Creole. Edward’s signature patch was the butterfly, a symbol of beauty and freedom, which he created for his first green suit and decades later for the children he adored.