Leona Tate in front of McDonogh 19 Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana

photo by: Justen Williams

Where Women Made History

Tate Etienne Prevost (TEP) Interpretive Center

  • Constructed: 1929
  • Architect: E.A. Christy
  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

On November 14, 1960, three Black girls integrated McDonogh No. 19 Public School in New Orleans, attending an otherwise empty elementary school for almost a year in the face of white racism and discrimination to their presence.

While the Supreme Court of the United States had outlawed public school segregation in 1954 with its Brown v. Board of Education decision, no public schools in New Orleans had been integrated yet. The three children—Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost, also known as the “New Orleans Four” (with Ruby Bridges) and the “McDonogh Three”—became pioneers of the Civil Rights movement when Federal Marshals escorted them through a crowd of white protestors to enter the building, making them the first Black Americans to attend formerly white-only schools in Louisiana.

Shaped by her life changing childhood experience, Tate has continued her pursuit of equity and racial justice into adulthood, creating and leading the Leona Tate Foundation for Change (LTFC), a nonprofit devoted to finding a way to purchase and restore the McDonogh 19—now the Tate Etienne Prevost (TEP) Interpretive Center—while sharing the history of civil rights in New Orleans.

The National Trust’s work at the TEP Interpretive Center brings together many of its campaigns and programs to emphasize the historical significance of the "McDonogh Three," while also supporting the work of preservation being done by Tate to build a more equitable and just world.

A New Chapter Begins

After years of tireless advocacy, community building, and restoration efforts, the TEP Interpretive Center is poised for its next chapter. In May 2022, in partnership with Alembic Community Development, the site re-opened formally as the TEP Interpretive Center for the history of New Orleans public school desegregation, civil rights, and restorative justice.

The former school will also serve as the home for the LTFC and longtime partner People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and will provide 25 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors.

Together, the LTFC and Alembic purchased the school in January 2020 and began the $16.2 million rehabilitation. Funding for the redevelopment came from a variety of sources, including federal New Markets Tax Credits, federal and state historic tax credits, the City of New Orleans, Louisiana Housing Corporation, the National Park Service, Reinvestment Fund, and additional public and private sources.

The Promise of Preservation

The work of the LTFC and the future of the TEP Interpretive Center is just one example of the critical role preservation plays not only to tell the full American story, but also to build stronger communities—two key priorities of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The strength and determination of the McDonogh Three, and the leadership of Leona Tate are a window into the potential and promise of preservation. Leveraging our programs to support the LTFC, the National Trust is sending a clear signal that preservation is a force for change.

For example, in 2020, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund contributed a $75,000 grant (donated by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) to help the LTFC realize its project to interpret the girls’ experience that first day as they waited outside the Principal’s Office while all the white students were removed. This second-floor hallway space will now become an immersive exhibit that contributes to the former school’s rebirth as a place of reconciliation and healing.

The preservation process for the TEP Interpretive Center also provided an opportunity for introducing preservation trades to a new audience. In the spring of 2021, Capital One provided funding for the National Trust’s HOPE Crew preservation trades training program to complete work on staircases inside the school. Participants from Louisiana Green Corps and New Orleans Technical Education Provider learned carpentry and other skills as they worked to restore existing stairways and recreate a third stairway. As a result, a new generation of diverse youth learned under-taught skills, helping to preserve historic materials and give this site new life.

And as a partner in the National Trust’s Where Women Made History campaign, Benjamin Moore donated 700 gallons of paint for the building’s interior.

As Lynell George writes of Tate and the TEP Interpretive Center in the Summer 2021 issue of Preservation magazine, “Walking over that threshold 60 years ago, Tate opened a circle she hopes to close: ‘That’s where I was first introduced to racism. It started there. It can end there.’” Such is the power of people saving places to better tell the full American story.

Every place has a woman's story to tell. Through Where Women Made History, we are identifying, honoring, and elevating places across the country where women have changed their communities and the world.

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