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circa 2020 Peter Forest

The New Orleans Four

They Rocked the Nation and Moved the World

The school crisis in New Orleans was a decade long battle. It was one of the most significant events not only for New Orleans, but for the United States and the entire world. Four 6-year-old girls (Leona Tate, Ruby Bridges, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost) were chosen as the emissaries to execute the special mission to integrate formerly white only public schools in New Orleans and the Deep South. At that time, Jim Crow was the law of the land and white segregationist lawmakers had no intention of abiding by the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. Brown v Board of Education was one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement, the premise of the argument in this case was that "separate-but-equal" was unconstitutional. This argument was first brought before the Supreme Court in the landmark case Plessy v Ferguson in 1896. The passing of Brown v Board of Education  helped establish that "separate-but-equal" education and other services were not equal at all.  

 

It would take 6 years after the landmark decision of Brown v Board of Education before integration would begin in New Orleans. Attorneys A.P. Tureaud, Robert L. Carter, A. M. Trudeau and Thurgood Marshall filed a lawsuit Bush v Orleans Parish School Board. This case was a decade long struggle, and because it was such an epic struggle, it  has been called the Second Battle of New Orleans. The case fell to Judge Skelly Wright by chance in 1952. Judge Wright, after years of resistance by Louisiana legislators ordered the desegregation of New Orleans Parish public schools with all deliberate speed and he drafted a desegregation plan for the school board to implement.

 

On November 14, 1960, Leona Tate, Ruby Bridges, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost became the first African Americans to integrate formerly all white public elementary schools in New Orleans and the Deep South. On that morning, 3 of the girls Leona, Gail and Tessie enrolled at McDonogh 19 school at 5909 St. Claude Ave.  A fourth girl, Ruby Bridges enrolled at William Frantz school at 3811 N. Galvez St. With world-wide attention focused on New Orleans, federal Marshals wearing yellow armbands began escorting the four girls to schools at 9 a.m. By 9:25 a.m. the first two public elementary schools in the Deep South were integrated.

As frontline soldiers in the Civil Rights Movement, the four girls became the LEGACY of the movement and the inspiration to spark the Children's Crusade of 1963. The girls, their families and white families who kept their children in integrated schools endured taunts, threats, violence and a year long boycott by segregationist. Their courage paved the way for a more peaceful expansion of integration into other schools in the following years as they continued to lead integration of Junior and Senior High school levels together.

The integration of New Orleans Public Schools marked a major focal point in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement. Those four little soldier girls invigorated the New Orleans Resistance Movement and they brought it home for the first Freedom Rider Homer Plessy who was arrested, tried and convicted on June 7, 1892 for violating the Louisiana Separate Car Act. in New Orleans. On the 60th Anniversary of Desegregation in 2020, the City of New Orleans proclaimed NOVEMBER 14TH - NEW ORLEANS FOUR DAY. In January 2022, Homer Plessy will be officially Pardoned when Governor John Bel Edwards signs his Pardon. 

 

It is high time to celebrate Homer Plessy, The New Orleans Four, the Freedom Fighters of the New Orleans Resistance Movement and the culture of the great city of New Orleans! 

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