In November 1960, enduring threats and vocal abuse from white neighbors and other hostile residents of the city, four African-American first graders desegregated the New Orleans School system. Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne attended class alone at McDonogh 19 in New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward — under the protection of federal marshals and in an otherwise empty building — for a year and a half; their white peers and neighbors left McDonogh 19 and went to parochial and private schools elsewhere; and most white residents left the Lower 9th Ward for other parts of New Orleans and for St. Bernard Parish, with the white population of the neighborhood declining from by 70% from 1960 to 1970.
Not surprisingly, McDonogh 19 occupies a particular place in the life and memory of the community. Since Katrina, sitting vacant and boarded-up, the building has also become yet another symbol of disempowerment and neglect in the neighborhood.
A partnership of the Leona Tate Foundation for Change, Alembic Community Development and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB), one of the country’s foremost anti-racism training and organizing institutions, is working to transform the McDonogh 19 school building into a multi-purpose, mixed-use center, with an educational and interpretive space on the first floor and affordable housing for low-income seniors on the top two floors. The PISAB Communiversity and PISAB’s training and administrative offices will occupy additional space on the site.
Alembic and our partners have secured site control of McDonogh 19 and preliminary project funding. The US National Park Service awarded the Leona Tate Foundation for Change $500,000 towards the project’s development. We are working to secure the balance of funding for this $14 million project and hope to break ground towards the end of 2019 or early 2020.