NPS Grant to Help Transform Civil Rights Landmark, Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans,
March 20, 2017.
NPS Grant to Help Transform Civil Rights Landmark
Leona Tate and two other six-year-old African-American girls, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost, made history in 1960 when they integrated the McDonogh 19 elementary school in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Though parents pulled literally every other student out of the school within hours of their arrival, leaving the three girls as the school’s only students, the girls were educated for two years at the site, having to avoid daily threats and berating from protesters.
Today the school, more recently known as Louis D. Armstrong Elementary, sits empty, and has since 2004. Tate has been passionate about the site since her fateful schooling there, and today she is committed to seeing it reopen as an asset to the community. “I always hoped it could reopen as a school,” she said recently. “But they made the decision to close it.” Its vacancy has led Tate to think creatively about what the empty school could be — and the National Park Service recently invested in her plan, awarding her foundation with $500,000 towards the building’s revitalization.
Tate, through the Leona Tate Foundation for Change, plans to buy the school and open a museum dedicated to Civil Rights in New Orleans and the integration experience. Exactly how much of New Orleans’ civil rights history is explored within the museum remains to be seen, however. “Leona Tate’s story, and the courage the little girls and their families showed, drives the whole project,” said Benjamin Warnke of Alembic Community Development, an organization partnering with Tate’s foundation to redevelop the school. “But where does the story begin? In 1718? 1865? 1954, or 1960?”
Tate and Warnke have been working with the acclaimed International Coalition of Sites of Conscience to help answer some of these questions. Officials with the Coalition have visited New Orleans to tour the school, interview veterans of the civil rights movement, local officials and others, and brainstorm with Tate and Warnke. Though the scope of the museum has yet to be decided, the project holds huge implications for the neighborhood and for the collective remembrance of this critical era in New Orleans’ history.
The massive building — Warnke estimates it to be between 35,000 and 40,000 total square feet — can hold much more than just a museum, though. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is helping Tate and Alembic figure out that lingering question, too. Possible other uses for how to redevelop the rest of the building have included developing housing for low-income seniors. “No matter what, we need to figure out how to redevelop the school so that it is a vital part of this community,” Warnke.
The Leona Tate Foundation is still in the process of buying the building, which could cost as much as $14 million to renovate. The NPS grant is a sizeable chunk of that total, but there’s still a lot to go. “We’re brainstorming on fundraising ideas,” Tate said, adding that she was honored to be one of only 39 projects nationwide to receive a grant award. Stay tuned as plans for this important site develop.
by Danielle Del Sol on March 20, 2017
‘The McDonogh 3’ help unveil historical marker at their 1960 school, The Times-Picayune
November 14, 2010
Today at 9 a.m. — the exact time that “The McDonogh 3” integrated the school 50 years ago — three women and the federal marshals who once escorted them will unveil a state historical marker in front of McDonogh No. 19.
The hope of organizers is that the marker will help to pique interest in the now-shuttered building and the women who made history there — women lesser-known than Ruby Bridges, who at the same time was integrating William Frantz school across the Industrial Canal.
A half-century ago, first-graders Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne had McDonogh 19 to themselves for an entire year, thanks to a white boycott. An unnamed white boy briefly broke the boycott in January 1961, but left once protesters descended upon the Walgreen’s that employed his father, John Thompson.
Despite the hostile crowds that gathered outside and the brown paper that covered classroom windows for their safety, the building was a sanctuary, the women told The Times-Picayune in a 2004 interview.
But after two years, the three girls were transferred, for reasons unknown to them, Tate said.
An explanation can be found in the archives at Amistad Research Center. During the girls’ second-grade year, in January 1962, the Orleans Parish School Board decided to convert McDonogh 19 to one “for the exclusive use of Negro children,” according to a letter written to the board by civil rights attorney
A.P. Tureaud, who represented the parents as part of a 1952 lawsuit he had filed to challenge school segregation in New Orleans.
New Life for New Orleans School and Civil Rights Landmark, Preservation Magazine,
National Trust for Historic Preservation,
March 17th, 2009.
There’s new hope for an abandoned New Orleans school that was one of the first to be integrated in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Era.
The Leona Tate Foundation for Change, which incorporates tomorrow, will raise money to renovate the McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School in the Ninth Ward as “a Civil Rights museum that can attract people from all over the nation,” says Rev. John Moore, foundation chair.
The 1929 structure (now called the Louis D. Armstrong Elementary School) was shuttered before Katrina, when floodwaters damaged the first floor. The school district plans to mothball the facility, having concluded that it will cost $8.8 million to repair and $10 million to replace.
“If they tear that building down, it would feel like everything my parents fought for would be in vain,” says Leona Tate, who, along with two other girls, became the first black students to attend McDonogh No. 19 in November 1960, six years after Brown v. Board of Education.
“The school was full of students, but when we arrived in the classroom, they began to leave rapidly, as if they had been swept up by the wind,” Tate wrote in the Times-Picayune. “For the rest of that year and approximately half of the next year, the three of us were the only students at McDonogh 19 Elementary School.” .
Last week, volunteers gathered at the school for a tour and to clean up its grounds. On Mar. 12, business students and design students brainstormed about possible uses for the building: an arts center, an educational center, a “business incubator,” or a museum.
“Part of the focus of the event was to clean up that [St. Claude Avenue] corridor and make it more appealing to businesses that might want to come in,” says Anisa Baldwin Metzger, project manager for the U.S. Green Building Council. “What we’re trying to do is just support [the Tate Foundation’s] ideas and try to help them with getting funding.”
The cleanup and brainstorming session were part of an 11-day workshop held by Historic Green, a nonprofit that formed in 2007. Historic Green is the “first national project designed to integrate sustainable restoration practices with preservation of an entire historic community,” according to its Web site—think Habitat for Humanity meets green design and historic preservation. Historic Green’s partners include the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as Brad Pitt’s Make It Right project.
“We’ll be doing everything we can to get it restored,” Tate says. “That building holds that  memory; it’s like you live it every time you pass by.”
Originally posted on by Margaret Foster on Mar. 17, 2009