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Civil Rights Pioneer Leona Tate Is Turning School She Helped Desegregate Into Center for Equality

One November morning in 1960, four first-grade girls broke ground when they set foot in their new schools. Flanked by U.S. Marshals and mobbed by angry protestors, six-year-olds Leona Tate,Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Ruby Bridges walked toward two all-white institutions, kickstarting the desegregation process in New Orleans—making history one step at a time.

The commemorative plaque erected in 2010 to mark the anniversary of Leona Tate's, Gail Etienne's, and Tessie Prevost's participation in school integration in 1960. The plaque is approximately three feet wide and 3 feet tall. The full text of the plaque reads,  "CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEERS. McDonogh Number 19 Elementary School, Site of the Integration of Southern Elementary School, November 14, 1960. On November 14, 1960, four six-year-old children in New Orleans became the first African-Americans to integrate white only public elementary schools in the Deep South. On that day, three girls enrolled in McDonogh Number 19  School at 5909 Saint Claude Avenue. A fourth girl began classes at William Frantz School at 3811 North Galvez Street. The integration of New Orleans public elementary schools marked a major focal point in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement. With worldwide attention focused on New Orleans, federal marshals wearing yellow armbands began escorting the four girls to the schools at 9 AM. By 9:25 AM, the first two public elementary schools in the Deep South were integrated. As frontline soldiers in the Civil Rights Movement, the four girls, their families, and white families who kept their children in integrated schools endured taunts, threats, violence, and a yearlong boycott by segregationists. Despite danger, the four children successfully completed the school year. Their courage paved the way for a more peaceful expansion of integration into other schools in the following years. The Crescent City Peace Alliance."

Tate, Etienne, and Prevost were tasked with integrating into McDonogh 19 Elementary School; Bridges, who stars in a celebrated Civil Rights painting, was famously assigned to William Frantz Elementary School. Though all four figures played an equally important part in the desegregation of the South, the story of the “McDonogh Three” has been overshadowed—and Tate wants to bring it to light.



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