Last Friday, New Orleans celebrated the 60th anniversary of school desegregation by honoring four Black women who were the first to integrate Louisiana schools in 1960 at just six-years-old. Because of COVID-19, the historic commemoration moved to this year.

On November 14, 1960, Gail Etienne, Leona Tate, and Tessie Prevost attended the previously all-white McDonogh 19 Elementary School, while Ruby Bridges helped to end school segregation across town at William Frantz Elementary. American painter Norman Rockwell immortalized the moment in his painting depicting Ruby Bridges, escorted by U.S. marshals, walking to school through an angry mob.

Indeed, this task was not for the faint of heart—back “[i]n 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.” Etienne reflected, “I was just afraid. I didn’t know what was going on and what they were thinking…I just knew I was going to a new school.”

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Even though the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 mandated desegregation of public schools, it took the courage of these four girls to force New Orleans public schools into compliance in November 1960.

Last Friday, New Orleans Public School students walked the same path Ruby Bridges once took in the 9th ward in the commemorative celebration.

Henderson Lewis, New Orleans Schools Superintendent walked with the students and said, “Over a 60-year period, our communities have changed and also access in public education has changed, but what we have done as a school system is make sure that no matter what neighborhood you live in…We give you equal access to be able to apply to a school you want your child to attend…We are always thinking about ways to make sure our promises to our children be fulfilled.”

The celebration is also a reminder that history is still in the present. All four women are still alive, and three of them— Etienne, Tate, and Prevost— attended the commemoration.