On January 31, 2020, at age 65, Leona Tate led her foundation, the Leona Tate Foundation for Change, to acquire the building that housed the
former McDonogh 19 Elementary School that she helped desegregate.
Why did she do it?
Leona made history on November 14, 1960, as one of four 6-year-old Black girls, escorted by federal marshals through shouting crowds, to integrate a pair of all-white schools in New Orleans. Leona, along with Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne, integrated McDonogh 19 on St. Claude Avenue, while Ruby Bridges went to William Franz Elementary.
How did she do it?
Leona spent a lifetime not making a big deal about her experience, not having it define her life. But in so many ways it does define her, just as her experience carved a path to a better, more equitable world. Leona watched as the school was closed in 2004 and then devastated by and abandoned after Hurricane Katrina—all but forgotten, even though the building has a history so deep and a story so important. Leona realized that no one else was going to tell the story. So she took it on herself, put together a foundation and went to work.
Her goal: Connect with the past with an eye to the future
Nearly 60 years since Leona and those three other girls changed the trajectory of history, Leona’s foundation broke ground on March 9, 2020, on the renovation of the McDonogh 19 building into the Tate Etienne Prevost Center—an interpretive education center focused on desegregation and civil rights with the upper floors designated to affordable senior housing.