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Civil Rights Icons Gail Etienne, Leona Tate and Tessie Prevost
photo credit Peter Forest 

Gail Etienne, Leona Tate and Tessie Prevost (L to R)

Finally, these 3 Civil Rights Icons, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost and Leona Tate are starting to gain EQUAL recognition. As 6-year olds, they too were escorted by US Marshals to desegregate McDonogh 19 Elementary School on the same morning that Ruby Bridges, in the same community (the 9th ward) of New Orleans, desegregated William Frantz Elementary School.

Once the 3 girls were placed in their first grade classrooms, at McDonogh 19 Elementary, white segregationist parents came into the classroom to take their children out of the classroom and school building. By 3pm Gail, Tessie and Leona were the ONLY students left in the entire school building. Each school day, the three girls were escorted by US Marshals to and from school. They had one nuturing and dedicated teacher Mrs. Myers who taught and kept them protected under her supervision for 2 years. The ladies said "if she didn't want to be there, we wouldn't have known because she was loving and motherly to us."  - Gail Etienne

The storyof Gail, Tessie and Leona has been downplayed across America and the world although they were the emissaries to execute the mission of desegregating TWO Elementary schools After McDonogh 19 Elemenatray School became predominatly black due to white flight, Gail, Leona and Tessie along with 8 other students were the chosen students to desegregate T.J. Semmes Elementary School. This time, white segregationist parents did not take their children out of school, and their were no US Marshals or National Guards to protect Gail, Tessie, Leona and the other 8 students. They endured horrific bullying, taunting and physical abuse that NO CHILD should have ever experienced just to go to a school that was not over crowded. To go to a school where the pages in the books were not torn out. Just to go to a school that was newly built with operating bathrooms and other nice amenities that the overcrowed black schools didn't have. 

 

 The full account of what took place in 1960 and  beyond, was illegitamately revised over the years which cast the contributions and sacrifice of Gail, Tessie and Leona into the shadows of history. They were literally erased as if they never existed. When they landed their FIRST national network television interview in February 2022, on the TODAY Show,  Rhema Ellis introduced them to America again, this time, as women still standing their ground.  Following the airing of a Black History special feature "The Untold Story of the New Orleans Four" in Frebruary 2023, on CBS Mornings, celebrated broadcast journalist and author Gayle King said "Jamie, I have never heard of these women before, never heard this story, thank you so much for educating all of us."  

 

The New Orleans School Desegregation Crisis of the 60s played a major and pivotal role in Civil Rights History and those four 6-year-old girls  rocked this nation and changed the world. The history about The New Orleans Four  and the freedom fighters of the New Orleans Resistance Movement must be restored to its rightful and prominent place in the global conversation and the media when it comes to Civil Rights History. The history that took place in New Orleans and Louisiana was integral, and the CHANGE they made, moved the country forward and it was nothing short of extraordinary.

 

Undoing HIstorical Negation - The New Orleans Four Legacy Project

In 2018, Multimedia Activist and New Orleans native Diedra Meredith, created The New Orleans Four Legacy Project to rraise awareness about their story and contributions as well as restore the  namesake of The New Orleans Four back in the media and history. The project also incudes a 3-part docuseries about The New Orleans Four and the freedom fighters of the New Orleans Resistance Movement.  

 

As part of her restorative justice work, Ms. Meredith was able to land the 3 Civil Rights Pioneers their FIRST national network television interview on the TODAY Show.  Watch the interview with Rhema Ellis in their first grade classroom in the newly renovated McDonogh 19 Elementary School building  which has been purchased by the Leona Tate Foundation for Change and transformed into the Tate, Etienne & Prevost Interpetive Center.

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