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.
Praise for Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans
Congo Square was the only public place in Antebellum America where enslaved Africans gathered by the hundreds and sang, danced and performed their own music into the mid 1800s. It was a marketplace and a beacon of freedom for those who were shackled in the land of freedom. The bloodlines of all important modern American music can be traced to Congo Square. Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans written by Freddi Evans is a defining history of this national landmark.
Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center
A truly outstanding, original book. It is well conceived, impressively interpreted, exhaustively researched, beautifully and clearly written. It is by far the best work on this fascinating subject.
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, author of Africans in Colonial Louisiana
Freddie Evans' work is a masterpiece. Her tireless research has finally answered a lot of questions and addressed many issues regarding Congo Square and New Orleans history. This book should be of great value to researchers, writers, historians, musicians, dancers, artists, and anyone interested in the unique culture and traditions of the Crescent City. Personally, she has brought me miles closer to an historical and spiritual connection with the musical heritage of my ancestors. It allows me to view all of jazz history, social club parades, jazz funerals and every jazz performance in another light.
Dr. Michael White, Endowed Chair in the Humanities of New Orleans Music and Culture, Xavier University
Congo Square is iconic in African American cultural history. The music and dance of the gathering place transformed the art forms of this country while the commerce evidenced entrepreneurial skills that are still untapped. In Congo Square, her exhaustive study of the square, scholar Freddi Williams Evans deftly presents the fascinating history and development of the hallowed New Orleans gathering place.
Jessica B. Harris, Ph.D, author of High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America
Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans is rich and wonderful. The author sheds light on the important site of Africanizing happening in North America. Want to witness strong precedents for hand-clapping circles surrounding poets of the street--early Brooklyn rap--this is your book. For Freddi Evans establishes that Congo Square is not only a place but a state of mind where defiant African descendants kept dignity and spirit alive. There are insights galore but I ain’t telling you more. You have to buy this book. Find out.
Robert Farris Thompson, author of Tango: The Art History of Love and Aesthetic of the Cool
It is always good for us, as Africans, to see what we call 'survivals,' for lack of a better word, because they are indications of African culture as it was—its distinct characteristics. When you have that reinforced after many years of exodus, it means that there is something in the culture that can survive in spite of the changes taking place and it brings into our consciousness the importance of making sure that what we have continues and forms the basis of the new culture. Congo Square is evidence of what happened.
J. H. Kwabena ‘NKetia, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Univ. of Ghana, Legon-Accra
Freddi Evans has researched and written a formidable account of Congo Square - one of the New World's most sacred sites of African American memory and community. Written in a language accessible to the general public and students at the undergraduate as well as secondary school levels. Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans comprises a richly documented volume which provides the factual foundations to understand and explore the living sense of place that Congo Square represents in the collective culture, mind, and mythology of the New World African presence in New Orleans, Louisiana. Freddi Evans has breathed new life into the ever-evolving legacy that continues to be Congo Square - a black heritage site for the ages, rooted in our ancestor's ongoing struggle for the retention of distant memories and practices reconstituted in the human geography of place.
David J. Organ, Ph. D.