Congo Square is located on North Rampart Street between St. Ann and St. Peter Street where it is nestled in a corner of the Louis Armstrong Park Complex. During the 18th and 19th Century, enslaved Africans, as well as free people of color, gathered there by the hundreds on Sunday afternoons discontinuously for more than one hundred years. This was one of several gathering places in the city, until 1817 when a city ordinance restricted them to one location appointed by the mayor.
At Congo Square, to different degrees over time, African descendants spoke and sang in their native languages, practiced their religious beliefs, danced according to their traditions, and played African-derived rhythmic patterns on instruments modeled after African prototypes. They also bought and sold goods that they made, gathered, hunted, and cultivated much in the style of West African marketplaces. Even when those who gathered at Congo Square performed European music and dance forms, accounts confirm that African cultural practices persisted.
During its long history, this plot of land hosted a variety of social, political, and recreational events and bore numerous names including: Place Publique, Place Congo, Circus Place, Circus Park and Circus Square. Into the 21st Century, African drum lessons, prayer vigils, weddings, family gatherings, and community festivals extend the square’s legacy as a place of culture, religion, recreation and revelry.
The performance, preservation, and transformation of African-derived cultural practices that occurred in Congo Square influenced the beginning of jazz and other areas of local as well as national popular culture. The National Register of Historic Places listed Congo Square in 1993, and the New Orleans Congo Square Foundation erected a historic marker at the site in 1997. On April 28, 2011, the New Orleans City Council voted to change the official name of this location from Beauregard Square to Congo Square. It had held the name of Beauregard Square since 1893; although, particularly in more recent decades, most referred to the location by the widely recognized name of Congo Square.
OFFICIAL NAMING AND DESIGNATION
New Orleans City Council
April 28, 2011
Regular Meeting Summary
Officially Named and Designated Congo Square
The Council received a presentation by author and historian, Freddi Williams Evans, and passed Ordinance Calendar No. 28,411, authored by Councilmember Gisleson Palmer, to officially name and dedicate Congo Square in honor of the 18th century gatherings of enslaved Africans and free people of color that took place in the square located inside what is today known as Armstrong Park. Although popularly known as Congo Square, a name that is deeply rooted in the history of New Orleans, it previously had not been officially designated, as such. Armstrong Park and Congo Square are located in the Treme neighborhood. The park is famous for its African-American history and is part of the African-American Heritage Cultural District.
District "C" Councilmember Gisleson Palmer said, "By restoring the name, Congo Square will continue to be remembered for the birthplace of the culture and music of New Orleans. In fact, Jazz is the only truly indigenous American art form, and arguably its genesis was Congo Square, a true gift to the entire country and world."