New Life for New Orleans School and Civil Rights Landmark?
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Mar. 17, 2009
This month, there's new hope for an abandoned New Orleans school that was one of the first to be integrated in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Era.
The Leona Tate Foundation for Change, which incorporates tomorrow, will raise money to renovate the McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School in the Ninth Ward as "a Civil Rights museum that can attract people from all over the nation," says Rev. John Moore, foundation chair.
The 1929 structure (now called the Louis D. Armstrong Elementary School) was shuttered before Katrina, when floodwaters damaged the first floor. The school district plans to mothball the facility, having concluded that it will cost $8.8 million to repair and $10 million to replace.
"If they tear that building down, it would feel like everything my parents fought for would be in vain," says Leona Tate, who, along with two other girls, became the first black students to attend McDonogh No. 19 in November 1960, six years after Brown v. Board of Education.
"The school was full of students, but when we arrived in the classroom, they began to leave rapidly, as if they had been swept up by the wind," Tate wrote in the Times-Picayune. "For the rest of that year and approximately half of the next year, the three of us were the only students at McDonogh 19 Elementary School."
Last week, volunteers gathered at the school for a tour and to clean up its grounds. On Mar. 12, business students and design students brainstormed about possible uses for the building: an arts center, an educational center, a "business incubator," or a museum.
"Part of the focus of the event was to clean up that [St. Claude Avenue] corridor and make it more appealing to businesses that might want to come in," says Anisa Baldwin Metzger, project manager for the U.S. Green Building Council. "What we're trying to do is just support [the Tate Foundation's] ideas and try to help them with getting funding."
The cleanup and brainstorming session were part of an 11-day workshop held by Historic Green, a nonprofit that formed in 2007. Historic Green is the "first national project designed to integrate sustainable restoration practices with preservation of an entire historic community," according to its Web site—think Habitat for Humanity meets green design and historic preservation. Historic Green's partners include the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as Brad Pitt's Make It Right project.
"We'll be doing everything we can to get it restored," Tate says. "That building holds that  memory; it's like you live it every time you pass by."
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