HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Tuesday afternoon, Civil Rights pioneer Sonnie Hereford III was laid to rest. In the midst of reflection and sorrow, his son, Sonnie Hereford IV, was able to reflect on his father's legacy with WHNT News 19's Chris Davis.
An iconic photograph of Dr. Hereford is synonymous with his successful integration of Huntsville City Schools, but his son says there's more to the story. “That iconic picture was actually on of the days we got turned away from school. If you look, we’re looking west down Governor’s Drive so we were walking East which meant we were headed back home. Governor Wallace had kept schools closed that day," he says.
Through difficulty and danger, the father and son prevailed. A federal judge handed down a court order to integrate schools in Huntsville, making Sonnie Hereford IV the first African-American enrolled in an all white school.
Sonnie says his father held him to a high standard, even at that young age. “He wanted me to conduct myself as a gentleman, even as a kid. He wanted me to be slow to anger because it would been real easy to get in a fight," he says.
Hereford may have been an icon to the masses, but he was a loving father to Sonnie. “I think come this Fall, when football games start up, I’ll really start to miss him. When I can’t call him and talk about that Notre Dame, USC game," Sonnie says.
As the Hereford family says goodbye to their patriarch, they're grateful for all of the community's support. “We’re very proud that this many people in Huntsville wanted to come out to honor Dad," says Hereford.
He says he's also amazed at Huntsville's progress in just one lifetime. “People used to spit at him, throw things at him, call him names for all the activities that he was performing. In later years, they gave him awards and named schools after him. What it says to me is just how far society has come," he says.