Monthly with Mosley: Over 60 years ago, New Orleans Four desegregated their all-white schools
Derek Mosley is the director of Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center and was previously a municipal court judge for the city of Milwaukee. As Black History Month begins this week, Mosley will make daily post tributes about remarkable African-Americans and Black history that often get excluded from mainstream history. You may have heard the name, Ruby Bridges, who at the age of six desegregated an all-white elementary school in Louisiana. But there were three other girls who had the same experience.
Most people are likely familiar with Ruby Bridges' story because of the iconic picture and painting of her being escorted by a militant U.S. Marshall. But also, on November 14, 1960, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Leona Tate walked into McDonogh 19 Elementary School as the first Black students to ever walk through the doors. Mosley details that Etienne, Prevost and Tate were also escorted by a U.S. Marshall amid angry mobs.
Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost and Leona Tate all went to the same school while Bridges attended hers alone, and Mosley suspects this is why Bridges is remembered more widely. Mosley says when they got to school that day, the principal received letters and phone calls from parents saying that if they came into the classroom, they would pull their kids out of school.
While school officials debated what to do, the three girls sat in the hallway for hours, playing hopscotch on the tile floors to pass the time. Eventually, the principal decided to bring the girls into class, and white parents began pulling their children out of the school. By the end of the day, the only children remaining were the three girls.
In the early 2000's the New Orleans Four noticed that one of the schools they attended on that monumental day was going to close. They decided to buy it and turned it into the TEP Center named after Tate, Etienne and Prevost. It now provides affordable housing and has a desegregation museum. They hold classes around restorative justice practices at that school.
"The most amazing thing to me is that all four of them are still alive, right. Not only are they still alive, they're only 67-years-old. So the first students to integrate schools in New Orleans, Louisiana are 67-years-old. You know, segregation and Jim Crow — everybody has this image that took place so long ago, but this is in the lifetimes of parents and grandparents that are living today," says Mosley.
Mosley will be posting similar stories on Instagram and Facebook about forgotten pieces of Black History the month of February.