HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Sonnie Hereford IV believes he’ll see the end of Huntsville’s federal desegregation lawsuit and the Huntsville city school system reach unitary status in his lifetime. The journey started September 9th, 1963 when Sonnie’s father walked him to the former Fifth Avenue school to integrate Huntsville classrooms. While he was only six years old when the case was filed, he’s proud his name is on the order and of the work his parents and others have done to get to this point.
After a federal judge approved a consent order earlier this week, I sat down with Sonnie Hereford IV to share his thoughts about what his family did to get to this point. The following is a portion of that conversation.
“I'm very proud to see their work go on, the work that they started all those years ago and I realize that it hasn't been nonstop since then. It's been off and on. In fact, that was one of the problems was as the judge said, this effort languished for some years but of course it's been very active recently,” Hereford said. “And I hope that this will result in Huntsville achieving unitary status. In other words, I just don't want it to be given to Huntsville but I hope they'll take the proper steps and do the right thing and with the proper monitoring so they will have unitary status.”
I asked him the following question, “The Department of Justice has said it will oversee the plan and will make sure that the plan is adhered to. Do you think in your lifetime, you’ll see unitary status?”
Hereford replied, “I think so and I don't mean that I have to live a hundred years just for that. I think there's sufficient attention on this now. I think the present board is committed to making that happen and I believe they'll be able to take the steps and be successful.”
A federal judge’s opinion makes it clear what the school system needs to do to get to unitary status and end the long standing desegregation lawsuit. Hereford is confident the current school board and administration will do what it takes to get there. “The community will have to cooperate. The community will have to get behind the plan. For example, I know some people will be inconvenienced by perhaps having to change schools and move to a school they hadn't planned on going to and with that kind of cooperation from the community, I think it could happen,” he said.
Hereford agrees that while the journey is not quite over, at least there’s a road map to get where we need to go. “Yes I agree. And again as the judge said, it languished for a long time but now with the new refocused effort and discussions, there is a plan, there is a road map there as you said and I believe that the parties involved can pull together and make it happen.”
While Hereford’s 84 year old father is no longer involved in the cause like he once was, he still wants what’s best for every child. He told us, “I think the effort all those decades ago kinda wore him out and he doesn't have any children or even grandchildren in the system any more so he's not as close to the details of what's going on now but of course he wants to see it succeed and he certainly wants to see Huntsville do everything that it takes in order to achieve unitary status.”