“Voices of the Civil Rights Movement”
Leona Tate, along with three other first-graders, desegregated New Orleans public schools on Nov. 14, 1960. Tate attended McDonogh 19 Elementary, along with Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne, while Ruby Bridges attended William Frantz Elementary. As the day progressed at McDonogh, white parents removed their children from the school, leaving Leona, Tessie and Gail as the only students in the building.
Through her Leona Tate Foundation for Change, Tate, with the help of city and school board officials, purchased the since-abandoned McDonogh 19 building. Named the Tate Etienne and Prevost Interpretive Center (TEP Center), the mixed-use facility hosts education and exhibition space dedicated to the history of New Orleans public school desegregation, civil rights, and restorative justice. The space also includes 25 affordable residential units for individuals age 55 and older.
Gail Etienne Stripling is one of four little girls who desegregated New Orleans public schools. Etienne Stripling remembers looking out the window of the car driven by a U.S. Marshal, as they made their way to McDonogh 19 Elementary for the first day of class. She recalls seeing an angry mob of people and her fear that they would hurt her if they could get to her. Two years later, she and others desegregated a second school, and experienced daily mistreatment by white students and teachers.
On Nov. 14, 1960, 6-year-old Tessie Prevost, was escorted by her father and U.S. Marshals to protect her from the angry crowds outside McDonogh 19 Elementary School. Two years after desegregating McDonogh, Tessie, Leona and Gail integrated a second New Orleans school — T.J. Semmes Elementary — this time facing hostile crowds on their own.
Desegregation of New Orleans schools “with all deliberate speed” was ordered in 1956 by U.S. Circuit Judge J. Skelly Wright. By 1960, integration had not yet taken place and JudgeWright issued a federal order to gradually desegregate New Orleans schools, beginning with students in first grade, and expanding one grade level each year as the students progressed.
In 1960, Dorothy Prevost’s 6-year-old daughter, Tessie, was one of three little girls who desegregated McDonogh 19 Elementary School in New Orleans. Prevost recalls the backlash—including harassment and threats of violence against her family—and how U.S. Marshals reassured her that Tessie was safe in their hands.