Yesterday, the city of New Orleans honored the 61st anniversary of the integration of its public schools by four 6-year-old Black girls, reports ABC News.
The celebrations to honor the four trailblazers were initially planned for the historic occasion's 60th anniversary last year, but the festivities were postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions.
On Nov. 14, 1960, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Leona Tate were accompanied by U.S. marshals as they walked into McDonogh 19 Elementary School in the Lower 9th Ward; and at William Frantz Elementary School, Ruby Bridges was escorted to her first day of class.
In 1960, the girls were chosen from a pool of 134 Black students who applied to attend the city’s all-white public schools. Before their selection, the students were academically and psychologically evaluated by the school board.
Gail Etienne, one of the “New Orleans Four” who integrated the school 61 years ago, reflected upon entering the building surrounded by the racial hatred of white mobs.
“I was just afraid,” she recalled. “I didn't know what was going on and what they were thinking.”
During the ceremony, U.S. marshals escorted Etienne, Prevost, and Tate to the same school they desegregated 61 years ago, accompanied by three young Black girls. To honor the historic moment, marshals placed a wreath of flowers at the school and the ceremony concluded with the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing."
On Friday, Tate said at first she didn’t understand the large crowds as she prepared to attend school on that fateful day. In a city known for Mardi Gras, initially, she thought that a parade was on the way.
“That's what it looked like,” she remembered. “All I could see was police on horseback, holding the crowd back. And that's the only thing I could relate to."
The McDonogh 19 Elementary School was badly damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and is currently being turned into the Tate Etienne Prevost Center, a civil rights museum.