By Baileigh Rebowe | LSU Student
In celebration of Black History Month, author Freddi Williams Evans underscored to a State Library of Louisiana audience the importance and impact of Congo Square in ante-bellum New Orleans on African American heritage and Louisiana culture.
Beginning in the 18th century, enslaved and free people of color gathered in Congo Square on Sunday afternoons for more than a hundred years, some to watch, others to perform dance and song.
The book titled, "Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans" comprises the first comprehensive and detailed study of Congo Square,
including descriptions of songs, dances, musical instruments, lifestyles and marketing traditions that characterized the gatherings.
"Books are an interesting way to present history to children and adults so they may learn and appreciate African-American culture," said Evans.
Pictures, maps and an extensive timeline also are included in the book. The timeline documents some of the dates of the gatherings that were written down and changes in accordance with authority. The French period, Spaniard period and American period are recognized on the timeline.
Although it was not the only location for African Americans to gather in pre-Civil War New Orleans, it was the longest lasting location. For this, Congo Square is an important part of Louisiana history that often is not spoken of, Evans said.
"By looking at Congo Square and the history of African Americans in New Orleans, we can see contributions and the impact of their presence on today's society. It's important to know and share so that African Americans and other ethnicities can see the origin of many things we take for granted."
The influence of Congo Square can be observed today in jazz music, New Orleans' "second line," jazz funerals, musical instruments and in the
music of the Mardi Gras Indians, says Evans said. There is a direct connection to other parts of the world, as well, including Africa, Haiti, the West Indies, Cuba and other places in the the Caribbean.
The Black History Month program featuring Evans was put on by a department of the state library known as "The Louisiana Center for the Book." Rebecca Hamilton, state librarian, said it is important for the library to continuously sponsor these programs.
"Libraries act to educate communities to get the things they need," said Hamilton. "This includes storytelling and highlighting historical markers that we need to celebrate and learn from."
Evans conducted the research for the book "on and off" for a 15-year period. She visited many people, cities, states, libraries, archives and even another country to complete it.
"It took a village to produce this book," Evan said.
The book was recently awarded the 2012 Humanities Book of the Year Award by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. It directly influenced the New Orleans City Council ordinance on April 28, 2011 that officially named the landmark as Congo Square. Evans was also interviewed by the History Channel for the "Hidden Histories" program.