TEP Center: An Integrated School, turned Community Center

CW News Break

NEW ORLEANS, La — It’s over 60 years since school integrated into the United States. McDonough 19 in the ninth ward community of New Orleans was one of two schools that were integrated on November 14, 1960.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed much in the lower 9th ward. It also reduced the number of schools. Leona Tate is a graduate of McDonough 19 and says, “after Katrina, they were going to either auction the building off or sell it and one point they were talking about tearing it down.  I said oh no, I can’t let that happen!”

A School Board decision held that because the school didn’t have enough land, McDonough 19, would never be a school again. Leona Tate, along with Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost, was six years old when they walked up the stairs to integrate McDonough 19. Now, Leona Tate would fight for the building to be saved by presenting its history to the school board.

Integration was serious and dangerous work, and threats would ensure regularly for all three girls and their families. “We didn’t realize at that time, how confined we were.  We were in the classroom and as far as we could go was to the restroom or under a staircase right outside, this was our play area,” recollects Leona Tate.  

Leona Tate’s foundation purchased the building and the plan is to invite the public to walk through the most personal memories of an African American six-year-old in a segregated 1960’s New Orleans. What was once a school will become the Tate, Ettien, and Prevost Interpretive Center.

The center opens April 2021 and will be mixed-use to house historical exhibitions, anti-racism workshops for school children, race relations seminars and the upper floors will provide housing for the elderly.

Leona Tate has long been a friend of The Historic New Orleans Collection and THNOC will help with raising funds for programming.

Teresa Devlin is the Marketing Manager for THNOC and says, “central to our mission is not only preserving the history of New Orleans but sharing it.  We want to make it available to scholars and the overall community.”

The Leona Tate Foundation is accepting donations to get the TEP Center up and running. Also, THNOC is donating $50 to the TEP Center for all of those who purchase THNOC’s second-tier membership.

For 300 years, race relations have been part of New Orleans’ story and it’s a compelling story about the soul of a city. It’s a story Leona Tate will continue to tell and she says, “it’s overwhelming sometimes, but I will tell it until the day I die.  Once the building opens, I will be talking a whole lot!”

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