As a Six-Year-Old, Leona Tate Helped Desegregate Schools. Now She Wants Others to Learn That History.

Leona Tate, 64, who helped to desegregate the Deep South when she was six years old.

This story was produced in collaboration with the Hechinger Report.

Clutching a small purse, six-year-old Leona Tate walked into McDonogh 19 Elementary School here and helped to desegregate the South.

Images of that November morning in 1960 are seared into the national memory: Tate and three other little first-grade girls in white dresses and hair ribbons walking into New Orleans schools, flanked by federal marshals and heckled by hateful crowds.

From that day forward, Tate, now 64, knew that her lifelong mission was to make the world a more equitable place. Within a few years, Tate will have a new base for that mission, when the non-profit Leona Tate Foundation for Change finishes its renovation of her former school in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward.

Tate is a practical person. Yes, she knows that many schools in New Orleans and across the country have been resegregated. She’s heard some people say that her walk in 1960 led to token integration, at best. Others tout the idea that segregated schools and institutions are inevitable, the inescapable result of bureaucracy, housing patterns, or poverty.

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