In her important book Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans, historian Freddi Williams Evans has documented the history of Congo Square, a site in New Orleans where records from the early 1700s document that freed and enslaved Africans gathered to share and perpetuate traditional African cultural practices. Today that square still exists, just outside the French Quarter in Louis Armstrong Park, and black musicians and other culture workers continue to gather there.
Captions by Jordan Flaherty
Plessy v. Ferguson
In 1892 a group of New Orleans’ black community leaders called the Citizens Committee decided to engage in direct action against the state’s “white only” railcars. Homer Plessy, a member of the group, was arrested for defying the law, an action that eventually led to the (ultimately unsuccessful) U.S. Supreme Court challenge Plessy v. Ferguson. A monument to Homer Plessy’s brave action has been erected by the train tracks where Plessy boarded, just a few blocks from the French Quarter.
St. Augustine Memorial
Tomb of the Unknown Slave, a memorial built at St. Augustine Church. Located in the heart of the Treme neighborhood, St. Augustine was built by free Africans in the 1840s.
The New Orleans African American Museum is housed in the Treme Villa, built in 1828-29. The museum hosts art shows, community events, cultural presentations and more.
Lower 9th Ward
The Lower 9th Ward levees broke open in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, destroying a historic black community. While the levees have been rebuilt, the neighborhood near the levee break still remains mostly empty. One exception is a series of homes built by Brad Pitt’s organization, Make It Right.
New Orleans City Hall
On Oct. 31, 1963, civil rights activist the Rev. Avery Alexander led a group of protesters to the “white only” cafeteria in the City Hall. He was dragged out by police. In 1978 civil rights activist Ernest “Dutch” Morial, a frequent ally of Alexander’s, was elected the first black mayor of New Orleans.
Backstreet Cultural Museum
Just a few blocks from Congo Square, the Backstreet Cultural Museum pays tribute to Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, and other important African-American cultural institutions in New Orleans.
Just blocks away from the hotels where most tourists stay, the city has a monument built to celebrate white supremacists. The city’s first and second black mayors both tried to have the monument removed but were blocked by the City Council and by state “historic preservation” officials. One look at that monument, which commemorates a massacre carried out by members of the Crescent City White League in 1874, reminds us how important it is to learn from history.
On Sept. 20, 2007, 50,000 protesters came to Jena and marched to “Free the Jena Six.” Today those six high school students, who were facing a lifetime in prison for beating a white student, are now either in college or on their way.
River Road African American Museum
The River Road African American Museum, close to Baton Rouge, is dedicated to documenting black history in the region.