Sonnie Hereford- Living Civil Rights History

Kafui Sakyi-Addo, Writer

Yesterday, Sonnie Hereford IV, the first black student to be enrolled into an all-white school in Alabama, visited Bob Jones High School to speak to the drama class about his life and childhood, as they begin to prepare for To Kill A Mockingbird in the spring. He spoke about his father’s life as a civil rights leader in the early 1960’s, as he was one of the people suing the Huntsville school system for its “separate but equal” concept that was anything but equal.

Brown vs. Board (1954) had been passed 9 years before, and technically, by continuing to segregate schools, our school system was breaking the law. However, no one was saying anything about it. That is until Sonnie Hereford III came along, with 23 other families to argue their case. Due to intimidation and aggression from white families around the areas, Sonnie Hereford IV ended up being one of only 4 black children to be enrolled in a white elementary school.

When the case was brought to court, the opposing lawyer presented four reasons that Sonnie Hereford IV, a black child, should not be allowed to enroll in a white school:

  1. Such a thing had never been done before
  2. It would be dangerous to cross such a wide street to get to school every day (in response to this, the judge leaned forward, looked at the lawyer and asked “Are there not white children that cross that street every day?”, to which the lawyer replied “Yes.” The judge then asked, “Are there not crossing guards to help the white children across the street?” The lawyer replied “Yes.”. “Then can’t the crossing guards also help the black children cross the street?”, thus destroying that argument.)
  3. That admitting Sonnie and three other black children would disrupt the Huntsville school system
  4. That the state officials had “turned the state upside down” looking for Sonnie’s birth certificate, and couldn’t seem to find it (this was, of course, because Sonnie Hereford IV wasn’t born in Alabama).

On September 3, 1963, Sonnie Hereford IV and his father walked to Huntsville’s Fifth Avenue School together, past a crowd of upset and protesting white parents. The picture shown is not, as many believe, a picture of Sonnie and his father walking to the school, but actually a picture of them walking home as the Alabama governor at the time, George Wallace, shut down all of the Huntsville schools for the next five days, as an attempt to keep Sonnie from entering the school. Sonnie Hereford IV began school the next Monday, September 9th, not realising until a few years later that he had made history.