McDonogh 19: Desegregation of the New Orleans School System

Stop 8 of 8 on the Modern Civil Rights in New Orleans tour

On November 14, 1960, McDonogh 19 was integrated by three young first grade African-American girls: Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne. Located in the Lower Ninth Ward, McDonogh 19 had traditionally been an all-white school, even after the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) decision declaring separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. That came to an end when Leona, Tessie, and Gail, also known as the “McDonogh Three” attended McDonogh 19 in 1960. On the morning of November 14, 1960, federal marshals arrived at the houses of the “McDonogh Three” to act as escorts for their first day of first grade. As the news spread, the white parents of the Lower Ninth Ward came to take their children out of the school. As the "McDonogh Three" sat outside the principals office, waiting to go to class, children were streaming out of the school. Despite being alone in the school and in relative danger, the girls enjoyed their time at McDonogh 19. The windows were papered over and the girls were not allowed in the lunchroom. For recess, the teacher had the girls play under the staircase inside the school. Despite the danger to themselves, the teachers treated the “McDonogh Three” well for the two years the girls attended the school. In January 1962, the New Orleans School Board decided to convert McDonogh 19 into an all-black school. Due to this change, the parents of the “McDonogh Three” took them out of the school. The girls were transferred to T.J. Semms, another school that was being integrated. McDonogh 19 remained an active school until it was flooded prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Thanks to the Leona Tate Foundation, McDonogh 19 will have a new life as a Civil Rights Museum in the near future.

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5909 SAINT CLAUDE AVENUE, 70117, New Orleans, La.