We may have been the only people who went to Essencefest (the annual celebration of African American culture) but didn’t actually go to Essencefest! Instead of braving the crowds and lines last weekend, my girlfriend Leah and I did our own walking tour of the city and found something really interesting.

Have you ever been to Congo Square?  It sits in the middle of Armstrong Park, in the Treme neighborhood just north of the French Quarter, and here’s what I learned while I was there.

During Louisiana’s French and Spanish colonial era in the 1800’s, enslaved Africans were allowed Sundays off from their work.  Some were also allowed to purchase their freedom, so Congo Square became a gathering place on Sunday afternoons for singing, dancing, celebrating African culture, and trading and selling goods with the potential to buy freedom.  It’s still unfathomable to me that slavery existed and this was a twist that I’d never heard of.

The music and dances on Sunday afternoons in Congo Square celebrated African culture and can still be heard in New Orleans jazz.

The practice of slaves being able to purchase their freedom ended when the United States even harsher forms of slavery replaced the French Colonial style.

I’m really glad we took our walk and I learned what I did.