Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Leona Tate speaks at Casady School Chapel services

Casady Cyclones listened with absorption as Leona Tate described what it was like to be a 6-year-old in 1960 thrust into the struggle for racial integration.  Mrs. Tate, a guest speaker and friend of Mr. Brad Philipson, Casady Upper Division Principal, gave Cyclones history in person.

Leona Tate shared her experiences of being escorted on Nov. 14, 1960, by federal marshals-with Tessie Prevost and Gaile Etienne-as they entered McDonough 19, an elementary school in New Orleans, surrounded by angry mobs of segregationists. It was also during this same time period that Ruby Bridges, another African-American student, integrated William Frantz in New Orleans.

“That day will be eternally etched in my brain as a day that changed education for all minority students, yet nothing could have prepared me for the insults, racial slurs and epithets that were hurled at me,” she said. “I was just 6 years old, and in one moment, I impacted the nation.”

Ms. Tate encouraged Casady students to make their own mark in history.

“God has been calling ordinary people to do extraordinary things since the beginning of time,” she said. “When he wanted to establish many nations, he called Abraham…when He wanted the people of Israel to be freed from Pharaoh, He called Moses…when he needed someone to have a dream for a better America, He called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” she said.

In the days after the integration of McDonough 19, riots erupted throughout New Orleans and student enrollment drastically decreased as parents pulled their children out of the school. In a matter of months, Tate, Prevost and Etienne were the only children left at the school.

According to the Civil Rights Digital Library, “the integration of New Orleans' public schools drew national criticism from those who condemned segregationists for their hostile reactions and prompted acclaimed American painter, Norman Rockwell, to paint The Problem We All Live With, which depicted four federal marshals escorting six-year-old Ruby Bridges to school on her first day at William Frantz.”

“We were very fortunate to have Ms. Leona Tate come Casady,” Head of School Chris Bright said. “She has dedicated her life to positive social change, and she is a shining example of the virtues we work to instill in each of our students.”

Ms. Tate currently operates a foundation that advocates equality in education.