Congo Square is an open space in the southwest corner of Louis Armstrong Park, located in New Orleans, Louisiana. During the 19th century, Louisiana’s French and Spanish colonial era, Congo Square was a place where hundreds and sometimes thousands of enslaved and free African descendants would congregate each Sunday to socialize and set up a marketplace to vend food, arts and crafts. By 1819 these weekly gatherings included thousands of participants and onlookers. Congo Square, also known by many other names including “Place des Nègres” or “Place Congo” was also the place enslaved and free people played music, sang and danced as a way of remembering their African heritage and strengthening their community.
These early 19th century gatherings in Congo Square influenced later indigenous New Orleans performance styles, such as Mardi Gras Indian traditions, the second line, New Orleans jazz and rhythm & blues. All of the musical forms observed in Congo Square permeate the very fabric of people’s lives in New Orleans. Even to this day, Congo Square is still a gathering spot for New Orleanians—Sunday drum circles, family gatherings, weddings, political demonstrations, music festivals, prayer vigils, and gospel performances extend Congo Square’s legacy as a place of culture, recreation, spirituality, and politics.