Desegregation Comes Full Circle: Buying the School She Integrated

Leona Tate

Leona Tate, along with three other first-grade students, 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 work with the Leona Tate Foundation for Change, Tate — with the help of city and school board officials — eventually purchased the abandoned McDonogh 19 Elementary school building. Named the Tate Etienne and Prevost Interpretive Center (TEP Center), the mixed-use facility hosts an 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.

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 Judge Wright 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.

For more on the New Orleans Four, read our feature article, and watch our interviews with Tessie Prevost, Gail Etienne, Dorothy Prevost, and New Orleans Four Legacy Project Founder Diedra Meredith.

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