Did You Know?

About “Congo Square”

The area commonly known as Congo Square in New Orleans, Louisiana was a place where people of African descent could gather, dance, and create or strengthen social networks. Antebellum Louisiana, especially New Orleans, was known for the gatherings in hundreds of enslaved and free people of African descent on Sundays even before the establishment of Congo Square in the early 18th century. During this one day out of the week slaves and freemen as well as observers could witness the gathering of people representative of different African tribes and nationalities, all in circles unto themselves.

Not only did people come to dance and commune, they also came to take part in what Gary A. Donaldson calls an “inter-cultural economy,” in fact a “vibrant economy” in which people sold their wares. Musicians played what were described as distinctively African instruments by observers like George W. Cable and John H. Paxton. These gatherings were tourist attractions unto themselves.

It should also be noted that travel accounts of these gathering often mention “voodoo,” (also known as hoodoo) a derivative of African vodun practices in the Caribbean and the Deep South, especially New Orleans. Evidence from many of these accounts, however, do not accurately reflect voodoo practice and are influenced by the prejudice of many writer concerning the religious practice. The suspicion surrounding voodoo, however, was so strong that the Spaniards in 1786 outlawed the gatherings (Hurston 1938; Donaldson 1984).

NPS Ethnography Program