Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Counting the Days: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

Mondays there were hogs to slop.
Mules to train and logs to chop.
Slavery was in no ways fair.
Six more days to Congo Square.

Folks worked hard back in the olden days. But in colonial days, most African slaves had no time off, not even to go to church on Sundays.

But New Orleans has always been a different sort of place. Even in its early colonial days, their Code Noir allowed enslaved people a half-holiday on Sunday afternoons and folks from different households mingled and shared gossip and stories and songs.

Thursdays there were clothes to clean,
Floors to mop and babies to wean.
Spirituals rose from despair.
Three more days till Congo Square.

By 1817 an open area on the edge of Treme' Plantation became a sanctuary of a sort, the place to be on Sunday where slaves and free blacks came together. For decades, people brought their drums, their guitars, and handmade banzas (banjos) and made music and danced there. By 1865 bands with European instruments performed there for dances. The area had various names, but eventually became known as Congo Square, and appropriately enough, is now part of Louis Armstrong Park.

It was a market and a gathering ground,
Where African music could resound.

And resound it did, with all kinds of music percolating into a heady brew under the heat of the summer sun, and the rest is, as we say, musical history, in Carole Boston Weatherford's Coretta Scott King and Caldecott-winning Freedom in Congo Square (Charlotte Zolotow Award) (Little Bee Books).

With rhyming and rhythmic verse, Weatherford's couplets build tension as they count down the days to the freedom that Sundays in Congo Square offered to the thousands of slaves of New Orleans. A melting pot of people and music, with strands from African, French, Spanish, and Caribbean roots, it all came together there, giving birth to jazz, which shaped their city's milieu forever. Artist Greg Christie fills the pages with vibrant paintings which evoke the spirit of times past in glowing collages of color which toil and move and dance across his pages, making this one a first purchase for all libraries which serve children. Of Greg Christie's Caldecott Award-winning artwork, Publishers Weekly says, "a visual journey, moving from searing naïf scenes of plantation life to exuberantly expressionistic and abstract images filled with joyous, soaring curvilinear figures."

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home