Located in the Lower Ninth Ward, McDonogh 19 had traditionally been an all-white school, even after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision declaring separate public schools for Black and white students unconstitutional. That came to an end in 1960.
On November 14, 1960, the same day that Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary School, three young African American girls – Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne –integrated McDonogh 19. Federal marshals arrived at their houses to act as escorts for their first day of first grade.
As the news spread, white parents of the Lower Ninth Ward came to take their children out of the school. As the “McDonogh Three” sat outside the principal’s office waiting to go to class, children streamed out of the school. For the girls’ safety, the windows were papered over and they were not allowed in the lunchroom. For recess, the teacher had the girls play under the staircase inside the school.
Leona Tate, one of the McDonogh Three, now owns the school, and the Leona Tate Foundation for Change is converting it into a civil rights museum.