Fifty Years Later: Students Remember Integrating New Orleans Schools

Fifty Years Later: Students Remember Integrating New Orleans Schools

 

Only one other student attended Frantz for the entire year: Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old African-American girl who, white ribbons in her hair, walked by herself into Frantz. At the same time, three other beribboned African-American 6-year-olds — Tessie Prevost, Gail Etienne and Leona Tate — integrated McDonogh No. 19 two miles away.

Around 10 that morning, as the word spread, white parents rushed to both 9th Ward schools to remove their children. A few hours later, all the white children were gone for good from McDonogh 19. According to School Board data, at least half ended up on free buses that took them every day from the 9th Ward to nearby St. Bernard Parish for classes in an industrial building that had been converted into an all-white school called the Arabi Elementary Annex

But at Frantz, a few white parents kept their children in class, determined to create a New Orleans school system that was truly integrated. By the end of the first week, the school’s rolls included only Bridges and two white girls, Foreman, 5, and Yolanda Gabrielle, 6.

Each was taught in a separate classroom, remembered Gabrielle, a first grader like Bridges at the time and now a therapist in Rhode Island. “That’s the irony of this: We were still kept segregated,” she said, recalling that she caught sight of Bridges only once, through a slightly open classroom door.

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