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The story of four little girls during the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans

New Orleans has quite a rich history and was indispensable as it concerns the entire country’s civil rights movement. Plessy Vs. Ferguson was held in 1896, and was about an African American Homer Plessy who boarded a train in New Orleans. The final ruling of the landmark case held that racial segregation was legal as long as public facilities were “separate but equal.” In 1954, following incidents in Topeka Kansas, Brown Vs. Board of Education would officially begin to undo over a half a century of segregation and the effects of integration were felt all the way down to New Orleans.

Lucille Bridges remembers escorting her daughter, Ruby Bridges to William Frantz elementary School, November 14, 1960 amidst all the turmoil, saying “I just prayed and said that if I ever got married and had children, I wanted it better for my kids. The first two days, I went with her. People were everywhere hollering and screaming. When we walked up to the school, they had two policeman standing there and they told us that we couldn’t go in and the United States Marshalls said that the president said we could and we walked in the school. They told me later that one of the city policemen was arrested because he had pulled his gun out to shoot me, as my daughter’s mother.”

The images of Ruby Bridges would resonate around the world with the powerful image of a six-year-old girl seemingly braving an agitated world alone. Ruby Bridges was among six girls who passed a test to transfer to all white schools in New Orleans.

Across town on that very same day, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne were the three six-year-olds who were to integrate McDonogh No. 19, the all-white school in the 9th ward community. Leona Tate is a fierce humanitarian who teaches the community about how change happened, but she always remembers the day she would face a world not ready for it saying, “When I woke up, I remember my house being filled with people, you would have thought it was Christmas morning because everybody was doing something. I remember a black car pulling up in front of the house and it was the U.S. Marshalls coming to pick us up. We were the only students in our school for a year and a half.”

As the country raged, no one was exempt from danger and students were on the front lines as the visible expression of testing the limits of America’s freedom.

“I visit a lot of schools and our children today don’t know the history that happened right in their city. New Orleans has a lot of history and culture that we are loosing if we don’t continue to tell the story and teach our children,” says Leona Tate.

Make sure you watch all of WGNO’s Hidden History stories as we tell the beautiful history about our city and how we made it over to today.