Seeing McDonogh 35 Senior High School’s band march in Mardi Gras parades raised the question: How many schools were named for McDonogh over the years? Was it 35 or more?
John McDonogh, born in Baltimore in 1779, came to New Orleans because of his work in the shipping industry. In 1813 he purchased the Monplaisir Plantation on the west bank of the Mississippi River. He subdivided it and renamed it McDonoghville, the name by which the Gretna neighborhood is known today.
McDonogh became known as a reclusive miser but was celebrated for his generosity after his death here in 1850. In his will, he left $2 million to New Orleans and Baltimore to build public schools for both white and black children.
According to the book “The Legacy of John McDonogh” by G. Leighton Ciravolo, the city of New Orleans created a commission in 1858 to oversee the donation. In 1861, it distributed $10,000 to each of the city’s four school districts to build a school. Of those, Ciravolo says, only the Fourth Municipal School District’s school, McDonogh No. 1 in the Irish Channel, was named for the philanthropist. Other McDonogh schools would follow. According to Ciravolo, there would be a total of 39 established in New Orleans and Gretna over the years. There would be McDonogh-named schools with numbers above 39 however, since some replaced previous schools. There was even a McDonogh No. 45 in Algiers, named for the merger of McDonogh schools No. 4 and 5.
New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson is among luminaries buried at Metairie Cemetery.
The 1990s brought controversy to the McDonogh schools, as activists pushed school leaders to remove the names of former slave owners, such as McDonogh, from local campuses. In 1992, the Orleans Parish School Board enacted such a policy and McDonogh No. 19, for example, was renamed for Louis Armstrong, McDonogh No. 36 was renamed for gospel music great Mahalia Jackson and McDonogh No. 15 was renamed for former Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial.
Though it wasn’t given a number like the other schools, John McDonogh High School stood on Esplanade Avenue for more than 90 years. “John Mac,” as it commonly was called, closed in 2014. The building reopened last year as Bricolage Academy.
Still operating under the McDonogh name are McDonogh No. 26 in Gretna and McDonogh 35, founded in 1917 as the state’s first public high school for African-Americans. Baltimore’s McDonogh School, founded in 1873, has been a private school since 1922.