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Tricentennial Reading List with Freddi Williams Evans

Susan Larson continues her look at 300 great New Orleans books. Today: African-American culture and tradition with independent scholar Freddi Evans.

Books by Freddi Evans

  • Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans, by Freddi Williams Evans 
  • Come Sunday: A Young Reader’s History of Congo Square, by Freddi Williams Evans

Books that inspired Freddi Evans

  • Africans in colonial Louisiana, by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall
  • Slavery's Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans During the Age of Revolutions, by Rashauna Johnson
  • Congo Square in New Orleans by Jerah Johnson


  • The Spirit of Black Hawk: A Mystery of Africans and Indians, by Jason Berry 
  • Spirit World: Pattern in the Expressive Folk Culture of Afro-American New Orleans, by Michael Smith


  • Mardi Gras Indians, by Michael P. Smith
  • From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians, by Jeroen DeWulf 
  • The House of Dance and Feathers, by Ronald Lewis
  • Fire in the Hole: The Spirit Work of Fi-Yi-Yi and the Mandingo Warriors, by Victor Harris, Rachel Breunlin, and Jeffrey Ehrenreich
  • The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition, by Kim Vaz DeVille 
  • Walking Raddy: The Baby Dolls of New Orleans, by Kim Vaz DeVille


  • Freedom’s Dance: Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans, by Karen Celestan, with photographs by Eric Waters
  • Coming Out the Door for the Ninth Ward, by the Nine Times Social and Pleasure Club, by the Neighborhood Story Project with Rachel Breunlin  



Susan Larson: As part of our tricentennial reading list, I wanted to talk about some great books about Afro American culture and its preservation and continuation. I couldn't think of any better person to talk with than Freddi Evans who's written such great books about Congo Square. 'Congo Square, African Roots in New Orleans', 'Come Sunday, our young readers' history of Congo Square.' Freddie, that's a part of our city that you've really made your own, isn't it?

Freddi Evans: I have focused on it quite a bit and rightly so and it's very important to the city but also very important to me. I would like to mention one book that was really influential and that is, 'Africans in Colonial Louisiana' by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall.

That book just really gave me a lot of courage, a lot of background, a lot of information to just say, we have so much to work with, so much data because we know the ships that were brought here, the locations from which they were brought, the people then who were brought here. She went even further to great the Louisiana slave database.

Susan: She's an extraordinary woman, isn't she?

Freddi: Yes. I just want to mention her book first and foremost but there are others too. One, again, that's most recent is 'Slavery's Metropolis' by Rashauna Johnson. She's from New Orleans as a matter of fact, no longer here but comes back quite often. I must mention also Jerah Johnson’s first book, a pivotal book on Congo square, which, was an article but then turned into a booklet, which is 'Congo Square in New Orleans.' It was very helpful, very valuable and important in our study at Congo Square.

[Sew, Sew, Sew, by the White Cloud Hunters] 


Susan: Talk a little bit about Mardi Gras Indians for us and some of those books. I think of Michael Smith, Mardi Gras Indians book, that great picture book and Ronald Lewis’s 'The House of Dance and Feathers.'

Freddi: Yes.


Susan: One of the best books about Indians and that whole tradition is a wonderful new book and it's 'Fire in the Hole: The Spirit Work of Fi-Yi-Yi and the Mandingo Warriors.'

Freddi: Exactly. Totally.


Susan: Isn't it great?

Freddi: Beautiful photographs as well as content, yes.


Susan: -and that’s by Victor Harris and Rachel Breunlin and Jeffrey Ehrenreich. He's a great photographer.


Freddi: Yes.


Susan: I found that book so inspiring. There's the photograph in there where you see Victor putting on a suit and you can almost see that moment.


Freddi: I think it's important to have that history because he's one of two living big chiefs who’ve suited for over 50 years, who’ve made suits 15 years continuously. Just that legend alone, the legacy alone is so important to document and have available for people.


Susan: In more recent times, we've gotten this great rebirth of interest in the Baby Dolls.


Freddi: Yes.


Susan: -which has been a joyful, joyful thing Kim Vaz-Deville's 'The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition.' That was really a landmark book, wasn't it?


Freddi: It influenced so many people-- it revised the tradition of the baby doll tradition I should say and we see it now so prevalent in parades Mardi Gras parades and just at Carnival time. That book and her research really did a lot for that part of the tradition.


Susan: We saw the Baby Dolls come out on mass after the loss of T Eva, which was such a moving thing to see. Then Kim added to this wonderful book called 'Walking Raddy, the Baby Dolls of New Orleans' about that rebirth and the art and all the things that the Baby Dolls inspired.


Freddi: There's so much to write about that is not really been developed as much as it should be in print that is. Yes, I really am happy when I see people venture off and develop something that's fresh and new.


['Bandera' by Los Hombres Caliente] .


Susan: We've been talking with independent scholar Freddi Evans author of Congo square African Roots in New Orleans and Congo Square, our young readers' history about books, about African American culture and tradition in New Orleans for the tricentennial reading list.


The reading live tricentennial reading list is sponsored by the Helis Foundation, the John Burton Harter Trust and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. For the ever-growing tricentennial reading list and other episodes check out

The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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