Originally called “Place des Nègres” and “Place Publique”, Congo Square is located inside Louis Armstrong Park of New Orleans, Louisiana. This open space, north of the French Quarter, is situated in Faubourg Tremé, a community where, historically, persons of African descent have resided for more three centuries.
During this time, the area, also known as “Circus Square” and “Place Congo”, became famous for representation and celebration of Africa Diaspora culture. This representation included the creation of African-American music, notably, jazz. As Nicholas Douglas quoted New Orleans native and jazz legend, Wynton Marsalis, in “Black History: Congo Square, New Orleans – The Heart of Music” in AFROPUNK, “Every strand of American music comes directly from Congo Square.”
During European imperialism and colonialism, France and Spain were pressing, which included the enslavement of Africans, to become global empires. As such, their governance of territories included strict rules to define the relationship between colonists and those enslaved as well as cruel consequences when these rules were broken. Because Louisiana was a territory of France, in 1724, the European country enacted and strictly enforced the Code Noir, which translates to “slave code”. This code was sourced from the one that, in 1685, regulated colonies in the Caribbean that were controlled by France.
Containing fifty-four articles, the Code Noir “regulated the status of slaves and free Blacks, as well as relations between masters and slaves”, according to the article on the primary document, “Louisiana’s Code Noir”, published by BLACKPast. Among these articles were rules that centered upon Catholicism and they included the expulsion of persons who practiced Judaism; forced instruction of Catholicism upon enslaved Africans; allowance of only the Roman Catholic creed to be exercised; confiscation of persons of African descent who are directed or supervised by any person who is not a Catholic; and confiscation of any person of African descent who is made to work on Sundays and holidays, which are to be strictly observed.
Because of this strict observation of Sundays and holidays being seen as holy days, enslaved persons used these days to gather together in both private, rural places, such as Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain, and in public spaces including on the levees and in squares. In their gatherings, vestiges of their traditional African practices, including original languages, singing, call-and-response, dancing and drumming, were honored. Perhaps essential to these practices was the retention of vodoun, which was prohibited for enslaved persons of African descent throughout the rest of America.