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Woods Elementary Students Hear from Civil Rights Leader Who Helped Integrate McDonogh 19

“I came to share a little bit of my story. It’s going to be much different than what you can even imagine.”

Those words are how Leona Tate began her time speaking to students at G.T. Woods Elementary on Friday, February 27. In a library decorated for her visit, Tate relived the story of how she and two other African American girls integrated an all-white McDonogh 19 as mere first graders.

“The morning of November 15, 1960,” Tate told the students, “I unknowingly and innocently entered into the civil rights movement at the tender age of six years old.”

Tate made history along with classmates Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne. Tate recalled initially thinking that the crowd of protesters outside the school that day was just people gathered for a parade. “It looked like Mardi Gras,” she said. The three first graders soon encountered an angry mob.

“Very little could have prepared my young mind for the obscenities, racial slurs, and epitaphs hurled at me as I entered the school under the protective and watchful eyes of federal marshals,” she said.

From McDonogh 19 to a number of other segregated schools she would eventually attend, Tate did not allow fear and bigotry to keep her from opportunities afforded to other students. She said awareness of what she had done in 1960 came later in life, and that her actions in the civil rights movement help her remained focused the importance of high quality education. She also told the young people listening that they should be ready to leave their own legacy.

“God always chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” Tate said. “And I want you to carry that with you the rest of your life.”

See the video above to watch Tate’s entire speech and the Q&A session at G.T. Woods Elementary. You can also learn more about Tate’s story by clicking through the photo gallery below. To see all our photos from Tate’s visit to G.T. Woods, follow this link to our online album.