A recent presentation by ULI Louisiana highlighted the intersection between civil rights, affordable housing, and community real estate development.
The story starts sixty years ago, on November 14, 1960. Some readers might recognize this as the date that six-year old Ruby Bridges desegregated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana.
But that is also the exact same day that three other six-year old girls in New Orleans, Louisiana did the exact same thing. Leona Tate, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost were all escorted by federal marshals and, simultaneously with Ruby Bridges, became the first Black persons to attend an integrated public school in New Orleans, Louisiana. That was McDonogh 19, at 5909 St Claude Avenue.
Sixty years later, Leona Tate and the Leona Tate Foundation for Change joined forces with Alembic Community Development to redevelop the McDonogh 19 building into 25 affordable senior living apartments, with ground-floor offices for two community non-profit organizations, the Leona Tate Foundation for Change and The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The facility will be called the Tate Etienne Prevost (TEP) Interpretive Center.
The Steeg Law Firm was privileged to represent Leona Tate and the Leona Tate Foundation for Change in this transaction.
John McDonogh himself is a controversial figure. As noted during the ULI presentation, during his life he was a slave owner, and even when he made arrangements for his slaves to become free, it was pursuant to an arrangement whereby they would continue to work for him. Never married, without any children, he left his fortune to the cities of New Orleans and Baltimore with instructions for the erection and maintenance of public schools to be attended by both white and Black children. In New Orleans, 30 schools were built with his bequest. McDonogh 19 was one of those schools.
At the ULI presentation, Leona Tate recalled the events of November 14, 1960. She didn’t know where she was headed in the car with the federal marshals. There was so much fanfare that she thought she was going shopping. Her parents told her to sit in the interior of the car and to stay away from the windows, and she dutifully did so.
The Leona Tate Foundation for Change is a community organization dedicated to the history of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and the accomplishments of its residents, as well as to the broader civil rights movement in general. Ms. Tate combined forces with Alembic Community Development for the redevelopment of the school building, and the synergy between them was evident at the ULI presentation. Mike Grote of Alembic gave a detailed presentation of the history and significance of the building, and in doing so he revealed the genuine affection and respect that he and his colleagues at Alembic feel to this building, this project, and its mission.
A complex combination of public and private funding and tax credit financing, on multiple levels, together with significant government grants, was necessary in order to make the project viable. Completion is expected in March of 2021.
Upon completion, Leona Tate will be able to re-enter that same building, continuing the work for equality that she began in the same location sixty years ago.