New Orleans’ Congo Square is located on North Rampart Street within Louis Armstrong Park. This was one of several Sunday gathering places in the city for enslaved Africans and their descendants during the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1817, a city ordinance, with the mayor’s appointment, made this their sole official gathering place.
On Sunday afternoons, they gathered in large numbers according to their traditions to socialize, recreate, dance, sing, play musical instruments, practice their religious beliefs and buy and sell goods. Spectators came to watch –making this site one of the city’s first tourist attractions. Some of the on-lookers documented what they saw and heard. Those accounts provide evidence ofAfrican practices and enable researchers to connect some to sources of origin as well as to New Orleans indigenous cultural practices.
Among the on-lookers were minstrel performers, including E. P. (Edwin Pearce) Christy of Christy Minstrels, who appropriated songs and dances for their fame and monetary gain. Christy performed on Broadway for ten years and included versions of the Juba dance, which Africans performed in Congo Square, and an act called “The Congo Green dance,” which was one of many names that referred to Congo Square.
Overtime, the inclusion of gatherers at Congo Square and other locations in New Orleans who had a myriad of New World musical experiences and influences yielded an intermingling of African-derived practices and European-based styles. This informed the evolution of new styles, indigenous New Orleans styles, African American music and dance styles. Today, Congo Square serves as a viable touchstone for New Orleans popular culture, which is celebrated and enjoyed by citizens of all ethnic backgrounds in the city as well as around the nation and world. Congo Square is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Evans, Freddi Williams. Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans. Lafayette: University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2011.
_____. “Congo Square and the Roots of Second Line Parading.” In Dancing in the Streets: Social and Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans. New Orleans: The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2021.
Johnson, Jerah. “Congo Square: LaPlace Publique.” Louisiana Cultural Vistas, (Winter 1997-98): 58-65. https://64parishes.org/congo-square-la-place-publique
Lief, Shane T. “Staging New Orleans: The Contested Space of Congo Square.” Tulane University, Thesis (2011).
Medley, Keith Weldon, “New Orleans Congo Square, African Seeds in American Soil,” New Orleans Tribune (August, 1986).
Sublette, Ned. The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2009.