NEW YORK — It was Nov. 14, 1960 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
As a 6-year-old girl, Leona Tate walked past a crowd being held back by police on horseback, broke barriers and made history.
“I still remember til’ today was 18 steps we walked up and we entered the building,” Tate told PIX11 News.
Tate, along with Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost, desegregated the previously all-white McDounough #19 Public school. She was only in the first grade but her mother had faith.
“She felt I can go somehwere to get a better education and that’s what she did.”
Every White parent pulled their child out of the class, leaving three little Black girls and their teacher.
“We couldn’t eat food from the school, we couldn’t drink the water, fountains were turned off, the windows were papered up, you couldn’t see in or out,” Tate said. “But we didn’t realize that, you know, that we were in a dangerous position.”
After integrating and all-White elementary school, Tate grew into her voice as an advocate for racial equality. She’s closely watched protests rise over the last few weeks, calling for justice for George Floyd and declaring black lives matter.
“I really feel like our children shouldn’t have to go through this, this is something that should have been taken care of 60 years ago.”
Today, the Leona Tate Foundation for Change works to provide equal access to educational opportunities for young people in New Orleans. Tate continues to share her story.
“I visit a lot of schools and the students here just don’t know what’s going on here, what has happened here.”
After returning home to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Tate noticed many schools were still closed. So she pushed to have McDonough #19 School — the very school she integrated — reopened.
A decade later, another plan unfolded. Tate’s foundation purchased the old school. The building is now being redeveloped into a community center, named after Tate and her fellow members of the McDounough 3.
“Hopefully that will be our racial healing point,” Tate said.