Freedom in Congo Square
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
As slaves relentlessly toiled in an unjust system in 19th century Louisiana, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they were free to set up an open market, sing, dance, and play music. They were free to forget their cares, their struggles, and their oppression. This story chronicles slaves’ duties each day, from chopping logs on Mondays to baking bread on Wednesdays to plucking hens on Saturday, and builds to the freedom of Sundays and the special experience of an afternoon spent in Congo Square.
Primary Source Pairing:
In this lyrical story about the significance of Sundays at Congo Square, the pictures come alive as the words sing. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a map of Congo Square in New Orleans from 1880.
For a text to text connection, use Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews to begin a discussion about the music culture in New Orleans, especially since this map shows Treme, the neighborhood where Trombone Shorty grew up.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- What size and shape is the map?
- What graphical elements do you see?
- What on the map looks strange or unfamiliar?
- Describe anything that looks like it does not belong on a map.
- What place or places does the map show?
- What, if any, words do you see?
- How does it compare to current maps of this place?
- If this map was made today, what would be different? What would be the same?
Book Cover and Summary: Follett
New Orleans Map: Music Rising at Tulane
For more images and resources, check out the Music Rising at Tulane webpage: Congo Square History: A Gathering Place – The Significance of Gathering