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'We shouldn’t be going through this after 60 years': Civil rights pioneers react to continued fight

The fight for equality has been going on for years, but the death of George Floyd seemed to be the tip of the iceberg. Now, all around the world, people of all ages, races and backgrounds are screaming "Black lives matter" and in the streets still fighting for equality.

It's a fight one group of civil rights icons knows all too well. "America saw what we have been seeing for a long time. The world saw what we have been seeing for a long time, and that sparked it. I’m praying we’re going to go forward with this and make some changes a far as laws are concerned, " said Tessie Prevost Williams. "It just seems like the things you used to see in the 60s, you know, police beating up on people, and you know, riots everywhere. It seems like we’re going backwards instead of going forward," said Leona Tate.

On November 14, 1960, Leona Tate, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost, now known as "The McDonogh Three," pulled up to McDonogh No. 19 school on St. Claude Ave.

Also that day, Ruby Bridges did the same, but at William Frantz school on Galvez Street.

All four of whom were just little girls, yet greeted at the schools with so much hate all because they were the first black people to integrate white-only public elementary schools in the Deep South.

One would hope a lot changed throughout 60 years, but The McDonogh Three said it really hasn't. "We should be further along than what we are right now. It seems like it's just as bad as it was then, if not worse. The difference from back in the 1960s and those days is that it’s more visual because people are doing the recordings on their phones. That’s what’s making a change and that’s what’s making a difference, and hopefully will help make a change, because people are actually seeing what we’ve been going through all those years," said Etienne.

"I really want to say I'm sorry because this should have been taken care of 60 years ago. It's been 60 years since we walked into those school building. It should've been an end to racism then," Tate said.

The McDonogh Three said they understand the frustration and they, too, hope changes will come soon.

So, they encourage young people to continue fighting for laws to change, have the difficult conversations and to vote.

"That's the loudest voice we can possibly have is your vote and that's what we need to encourage them to do; to get together to organize to vote," said Williams.

The McDonogh Three are continuing their push for changes. Back in March, they broke ground on their new project.

It's call the Tate, Etienne & Prevost [TEP] Center. The McDonogh Three are redeveloping the same elementary where they made history. Leona Tate's foundation now owns McDonogh 19. The foundation partnered with Alembic Community Development for the project.

It will serve several purposes including affordable senior housing and office/meeting space for organizations dedicated to social justice. The TEP Interpretive Center’s mission is to teach, exhibit, and engage visitors in the history of civil rights in New Orleans.

It's scheduled to open spring 2021.


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