Civil rights pioneers celebrate re-opening of former McDonogh Elementary

June 22, 2022
Gayle Etienne, Leona Tate and Tessie Prevost outside the entrance of the former McDonogh 19 Elementary School.

U.S. Bank among investors who helped fund the new Tate Eitienne Provost Center, dedicated to preserving the history of school desegregation and its role in the civil rights movement. 

As Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost walked up the steps to the entrance of the former McDonogh 19 Elementary School in New Orleans, they knew that they were making history once again.

Sixty-two years before, these then-first graders – known as the “McDonogh Three” – were picked up at their homes and accompanied by U.S. Marshals to a school in the Lower Ninth municipal ward that was part of the desegregation of the New Orleans public school system. They were greeted by a mob of white protesters who were angry to see these three Black girls arrive at a school that historically had educated only their white children.

Dorothy Prevost, Tessie’s mother, described the strength it took to send her daughter to the school on November 14, 1960.                                              

“I placed my daughter in the hands of a Marshal, and it was terrifying,” said Mrs. Prevost, who is now 90 years old. “And when I watched it on TV, I could hear the

bad things that were said to our children, but in the background, I could also hear people cheering, and that brought tears to my eyes, and hope.”

Last month, Tate, Etienne, and Prevost came full circle, returning to their former school and hearing only joy from the crowd that assembled for the ribbon cutting for the new Tate Etienne Prevost Center – the TEP Center – a space dedicated to preserving the history of school desegregation and its role in the civil rights movement. 

“Today, I see a crowd of happy people who understand what our families went through,” added her daughter Tessie Provost. “Little did we know at that time that this building would become a place where we can share the culture and history of this city.”

The TEP Center

Founded by Tate, The Leona Tate Foundation for Change, Inc. (LTFC) oversaw and managed the completion of the TEP Center, a mixed-use space that includes affordable housing for seniors, an exhibit dedicated to school desegregation, and the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum.

Visitors will be able to experience interactive exhibits, such as sitting on a bench outside the principal's office, just as the girls waited for hours the first day of school before going to class.

The center will also house The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, an organization that for nearly 40 years has provided training and workshops to undo racism and oppression; and Beloved NOLA, a racial equity-based nonprofit that will offer affordable childcare.

The project was financed by 16 public and private organizations. This includes a $3.7 million equity investment from U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC), in New Markets Tax Credits provided by Central States Development Partners, Enhanced Community Development and U.S. Bank Community Development Entity. USBCDC also donated $35,000 for the TEP Center’s commemoration and ribbon cutting ceremonies.

USBCDC Vice President William Carson giving remarks at the May 4, 2022, ribbon cutting for the TEP Center.

“U.S. Bank is focused on closing the gap between people and possibilities, and we are very intentional about our work—investing and working with partners who share this commitment,” said USBCDC Vice President William Carson, who attended the event. “We are not afraid to delve into issues of racial equity, and we seek out opportunities to invest capital in projects such as the TEP Center, that close racial equity gaps that exist throughout our country.”

USBCDC’s investment also supports U.S. Bank Access Commitment, the company’s long-term approach to help build wealth while redefining how the bank serves racially diverse communities and provides more opportunities for diverse employees. USBCDC has made a commitment to expand equitable access to capital for Black-led/owned businesses.

Just as they did 62 years ago, the McDonogh Three walked up the exterior steps leading to the school entrance with the McDonogh name right above; but on this occasion, they were to cut the ceremonial ribbon.

"We are here today to celebrate a full circle," Etienne said before she, Tate and Prevost cut the ribbon. "In 1960, three little Black girls marched up these steps... the only thing we were told was that we had an opportunity that we needed to take advantage of and that this would be an opportunity for other little Black girls and boys in the city."

“At the time we didn’t know the impact this history was going to have in our community,” said Tate. “But now I’m looking forward to telling the story of what happened here.”

Click here to read an earlier interview U.S. Bank published about Leona Tate‘s experience as a child and her vision for the TEP Center.

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