Black History Month
Freedom in Congo Square
Carole Boston Weatherford, Author
R. Gregory Christie, Illustrator
Little Bee Books, Fiction, 2016
Coretta Scott King Honorees
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes: Slavery, Congo Square, New Orleans, Day of freedom, Celebration, Dance, Music, Culture
Opening: “Mondays, there were hogs to slop, mules to train, and logs to chop. / Salvery was no ways fair. Six more days to Cong Square.”
As slaves in New Orleans, Louisiana, relentlessly toiled in an unjust system, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square. 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 poetic, little-known story expresses a humans capacity to find hope and joy in different circumstances and demonstrates how Congo Square was indeed freedom’s heart.
Why I like this book:
Carole Boston Weatherford’s rhyming celebratory text is a chant as readers count down each day until Congo Square day arrives. Excitement builds as slaves work the fields and inside homes until Sunday, their one free day to gather with family and friends and celebrate their heritage and speak their languages. Paired with R. Gregory Christie’s breathtaking illustrations, the book is a ballet of movement and rhythm.
This book is beautiful, lyrically and visually. Both young and old alike will enjoy reading it together. It is also a wonderful introduction to the topic of slavery for young children.
There is an infomative Foreword at the beginning of the book by Freddi Williams Evans, a historian and Congo Square expert. Make sure you check out the history of Congo Park, now located within Louis Armstrong Park in New Orelans. The Louisiana African slaves in the mid-1800s were captured in West and Central West Africa, separated from their families, chained aboard slave ships and brought to America to be sold as property. New Orleans set aside Sunday afternoons so that Africans could come together to celebrate with friends and family.
Resources: There is an Author’s Note at the end of the book.
Carole Boston Weatherford is an award-winning poet and author who wrote her first poem in the first grade and hasn’t stopped since. She has received a Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom and a Coretta Scott King Award Honor for Becoming Billie Holiday, as well as the NAACP’s Image Award. She is currently a professor and director of professional writing at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. You can find more about Carole at her website.
*Reviewed from a library copy.