CONGO SQUARE: AFRICAN ROOTS IN NEW ORLEANS
Written by: Freddi Williams Evans
Foreword by: J.H. Kwabena 'Nketia, Ph.D.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2011 and la tour verte, France, 2012
Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans comprises the first comprehensive study of one of the New World’s most sacred sites of African American memory and community. Beginning in the eighteenth century, enslaved Africans and free people of color gathered in Congo Square on Sunday afternoons discontinuously for well over one hundred years. This book presents accounts and descriptions of the songs, dances, musical instruments, religious beliefs, and marketing traditions that typified those gatherings. Also included are examples of similar practices that existed in Haiti, Cuba, and other parts of the West Indies, reflecting New Orleans’ relationship with Caribbean countries and shedding light on Congo Square’s role in extending and perpetuating African music and dance in North America. The amalgamation of those practices influenced indigenous New Orleans performance styles as well performance forms on the national level.
Written in a language accessible to the general public and students on the undergraduate as well as secondary level, this book includes an innovative timeline, maps, graphic images, extensive endnotes and bibliographic references, which distinguishes it as an exceptional teaching resource for Louisiana as well as African American history, culture and literature across the curriculum. This book honors the people who celebrated their heritage in Congo Square and whose legacy influenced the making of a national historic landmark. Today, Congo Square continues to serve as a viable cultural touchstone for citizens of New Orleans – particularly those of African descent.
Immediate Impact of the Book
- The New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance on April 28, 2011 that officially restored the name Congo Square to the landmark.
- A traveling exhibit on Congo Square sponsored by the New Orleans African American Museum that premiered at the 2011 Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell.
- Research for the book informed the opening essay of Ancestors of Congo Square, a publication that celebrated the 100th anniversary of New Orleans Museum of Art.
- A 30-minute, student-directed documentary that was based on the book entitled “Congo Square: A Cultural Treasure,” aired on the New Orleans Public Access television station.
- The cover story of the Fall 2011 publication of Cultural Vistas, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, included an excerpted chapter from the book.
- An interview of Freddi Williams Evans by the History Channel for a “Hidden Histories” program.
- Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans received the 2012 Book of the Year Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.