The TEP Center Takes Charge of The Historic McDonogh 19 School Building to Educate About Local Civil Rights History

Source: The TEP Center

The TEP (Tate, Etienne, and Prevost) Center, 5909 St. Claude Ave., is a community center and organization working as a resource location for the public to discuss and learn about our complex and changing culture. 

Located in a building that was previously McDonogh 19, the organization is committed to fighting racism and advocating for racial reconciliation and social change in the Lower Ninth Ward. Since May 2022, the TEP Center has served as a civil rights exhibit, community center, and affordable housing in 25 units for those 55 and older.

The Center continues the work of the Leona Tate Foundation, which has been educating students and the public about the Civil Rights Movement and minorities’ struggle for equality since 2009. 

McDonogh 19 was the site of one of the first school integrations in New Orleans. On November 14, 1960, six years after separate black and white schools were ruled unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, six-year-old Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost, also known as the McDonogh Three, became the first African Americans to attend and integrate the formerly whites-only school. The girls were escorted by Federal Marshals past protesters and attended class alone. 

Source: The TEP Center

For a year and a half, Tate, Etienne, and Prevost were the only students in attendance at McDonogh 19. Upon the integration, the parents of the white students removed their children from the school, sending them to campuses that were still segregated.

The school was shuttered in 2004, and the building remained unused until 2017, despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2020 the three-story building was purchased and restored by The Leona Tate Foundation, and last February, the school was added to the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail

Tessie Prevost, Gail Etienne, and Leona Tate at Ribbon Cutting

“It took several years,” Leona Tate said. “After trying to get it opened up as a school, and finding out it wouldn’t be, I knew that it needed to be something educational. Just by visiting schools in New Orleans, it was just amazing to me how none of the children knew the Civil Rights history that happened right here in New Orleans.”

The TEP Center serves as an educational outlet where visitors can learn about the Civil Rights Movement, specifically the integration of schools in the south, in the original room where Tate, Etienne, and Prevost had class. The Center was created to educate the public about the Civil Rights work that happened here in New Orleans and begin conversations about the movement. Tours include education about the building and how it relates to the larger Civil Rights story.

One of the programs at the TEP Center includes Ringing the Bell, a development presentation for teachers that presents the need for teachers to include Civil Rights lessons into the core curriculum. According to the Center’s website, objectives include demonstrating the value of Civil Rights/African-American history lessons to students, identifying strategies to incorporate Civil Rights and African American history lessons across all subject areas, understanding Leona Tate’s role as a Civil Rights pioneer, identifying the stories housed at the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum, and understanding the People’s Institute of Survival and Beyond role in addressing structural racism.

“This program looks at adding in various activities to teach Civil Rights lessons, not only in February but throughout the year based on Louisiana standards,” said the Center’s program director Tremaine Knighten-Riley.

The Center also offers TEP Talks—forums that discuss social justice issues and how they relate to school desegregation. Topics include food equity, healthcare equity, housing equity, and Black history is American history.

When you visit the TEP Center, you will see the renovated building space with the plans for the permanent exhibit. The building was renovated for $16.2 million over two years and, over the last year, the Center has raised additional funds to complete the exhibit buildout. Walking in the shoes of the three six-year-olds who integrated the space, you’ll view a short film that includes an interview with Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost about how the experience changed their lives and changed the city and the nation.

Source: The TEP Center

There is also an exhibit that was once a part of the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum that has been moved into the space.

“Prior to moving into the historic McDonogh 19, now TEP Center, we were at the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum on Deslonde St.,” Knighten-Riley explained. “It was a small shotgun house museum and the exhibit told the history from the residents’ perspective, from the early 1800s to post-Katrina.”

The TEP Center is open by appointment Monday through Friday, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. The last tour begins at 2:00 p.m. Please email to schedule. A suggested donation of $10 for the tour will support the building of the Center’s exhibits.

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