Leona Tate continues New Orleans’ education

Today, Tate is working with the exhibit designers to re-create her first-grade classroom. Almost certainly, visitors will see three small desks pulled close to the chalkboard in the corner classroom. All the windows will be covered in brown kraft paper, as they were in 1960, so that no one could see in or out.

But visitors to her classroom will see no other desks. At Frantz school, a handful of white students braved crowds of hecklers for the entire school year. But McDonogh 19’s enrollment quickly plummeted to three. “For the rest of the year, it was just me, Gail, Tessie, and Miss Meyer, our teacher,” Tate said.

At first, people expected the white students would return to New Orleans schools, after a few days or maybe a few weeks. That didn’t happen. It was a prime example of structural racism in action, Tate said.

Some students from the two desegregated schools in New Orleans transferred to newly built, all-white “private” academies that used state per-pupil funding to operate. Immediately after desegregation, school buses paid for by segregationists picked up white students from the city’s 9th Ward and took them across county lines to neighboring St. Bernard Parish, where the all-white schools took them in, with the state picking up the tab.