I remember seeing this image as a child, little thinking that as an adult I would stand outside McDonagh #19 in the Lower 9th in New Orleans. The picture was taken November 14 1960 when three little girls, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost and Leona Tate broke the illegal segregation of McDonagh High School #19 by being the first Black Children to attend the school. On the same day Ruby Bridges attended a second Lower 9th New Orleans School, William Frantz Elementary, also accompanied by US Federal Marshals.
The legal decision known as Brown v The Board of Education 1954 had made school segregation illegal but as late as 1959 a poll of white parents in New Orleans showed that 78% wanted to continue with segregated schools. Judge J Skelly Wright had formally issued an order for the schools to desegregate in 1956 but he did not set a date for this to happen until 1960.
White parents began to remove their children from the schools almost immediately and angry white parents protested outside the schools. Death threats were made against the children. On the second day, the boycott was broken by Pam Foreman, age 5, who, accompanied by her father, Rev. Lloyd Anderson Foreman, walked through the angry mob, to attend school. In the following days, students began to return to school However by 1970 the white population of the Lower 9th fell by 77%, with many families moving to St. Bernard Parish.
Later that evening, as I began to absorb what I had learned that day, I became curious about the John McDonagh who had endowed the school and 27 others in New Orleans. I began to wonder was he an Irishman.
John McDonagh was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1779 the son of Irish parents John and Elizabeth McDonagh. In 1800, he was sent to Liverpool. England to acquire goods for the Louisiana trade and after a second successful trip he decided to make his home in New Orleans. By the time of his death in 1850, his net worth was calculated at almost 2 million US dollars. He never married and left his estate almost entirely in trust for the establishment of schools for poor white and free Black children. The New Orleans Public School system had been established in 1841 and in spite of the Will being contested, the New Orleans Public School system received $704.440 in 1858.
John McDonagh's wealth was amassed through his many business activities which included slaveholding.
In the 1830 US Federal Census there are 87 enslaved people recorded as his property.
In 1840, 192 enslaved people.
In 1850, 58 enslaved people.
In reality, the people he enslaved were the source of the $704,440 dollar contribution to the New Orleans Public School system. Here are some of their names;
Nero, document date 1810
Anna/Hannah, and her (unnamed) children. ( document date 1838 and for all named beneath)
Hagar and her (unnamed) children
Dolly and her (unnamed) children
Sophie and her (unnamed) children
Henry, occupation carpenter
William, occupation carpenter
George, occupation carpenter
Jane/Jenny and her (unnamed children)
Jenny, Phillip's wife and their (unnamed children)
Toby Grey, recorded as a Freeman (Mullato)1850
In 1822, John McDonagh devised a manumission scheme for the people he had enslaved. Under this scheme it usually took about 15 years for enslaved people to gain their freedom. I have been unable, at this time, to access the legal documents this scheme would have created. He was also an active member of the American Colonization Society which hired ships for enslaved people to go to Liberia.
In a letter written May 30th 1842, to Rev. W McClain, John McDonagh identified the following people bound for Liberia on the ship Mariposa;
James, an African by birth
Henrietta , his wife
McGeorge, his son
Ellie, his son
Molly daughter of Henrietta
Charity daughter of Molly
Milly or Amelia, his wife,
Elizabeth his daughter
Louis their son
Richard, a minister of the gospel aged about 50 years.
Maria, his wife
Charles, their son,
Lucy their daughter
Maria their daughter
Diana his wife
Thomas their son
Galloway, his son
Juda daughter of Juda[y] ,
Jenny aged 35 years.
John his son,
Orleans his son
Alfred his son
Mary wife of Simon
Winny their child a girl
Benjamin their son
Elisa their daughter
George Ellis her son,
Charles Mason his brother (brother of Joshua)
Susan sister of cornelius
Julia wife of Augustine Lombard
Jonathan their son
Dabney aged 19 years honest and faithful man.
Becky sister of Jack
Matilda sister of Jack
Randal a brother of Jack
Dime and daughter of Nancy
Henry son of katy
Isaac son of Katy
John son of Elisa
Jenny (called little jenny)
Letty a daughter of Jenny
Daniel a son of Jenny
Bridget her daughter
Samuel his son
Andrew son of Rhina 13 years,
Caroline daughter of Rhina ,
Robert carter , son of Rhina
Baltamore son of Rhina
Catherine a daughter of Rhina
Moses his her son
William his son .
Washington W. McDonogh son of Phillis 21 years of age a christian missionary educated at the Lafayette College in Pennsylvania
(Ages, occupation and other information available in the letter dated 1842, see below)
The image underneath Sources is a record from 1859 of the enslaved people who made the journey to Liberia pursuant to the terms of John McDonagh's Will.
The Will of John McDonagh (written 1838, proven 1850)
Letter written by John McDonagh to Rev. W McClain 1842
Toby Grey 1850
1859 the ship Rebecca bound for Liberia
John McDonagh Baptism 1780
James (brother of John) Baptism 1790
Margaret (sister) McDonagh Baptism 1793
Jane (sister) McDonagh named in the Will above
Death of Elizabeth (mother) McDonagh
Death of John (father) McDonagh
Memorial John McDonagh 1779-1850
US Federal Census 1830
US Federal Census 1840
US Federal Census 1850
Sincere thanks for his assistance to
Mr. Leon A. Waters, Historian & Author of On To New Orleans: Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt
Any mistakes are my own.