Sonnie Hereford IV speaks to students about the darkness of segregation in the past

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - It's hard to imagine a time when black boys and girls and white boys and girls could not attend the same school. That concept is even harder to grasp when you're between the ages of three and five, surrounded by classmates of different backgrounds.

On Thursday morning, Sonnie Hereford IV spoke with young students at the Montessori Learning Center about the harsh reality of Alabama's past, in hopes of instilling important lessons like treating others well. Hereford finds purpose in painting a picture of the past to those who don't yet understand the darkness of those days.

"If you had brown skin like I do, sometimes there were things you weren't allowed to do that the other children could do," Hereford explained to a classroom of students.

His father, Dr. Sonnie Hereford III, marched his son into a white public school in Huntsville to enroll in 1963.

"We wanted to ask the judge to allow me to go to that school, so even though only white children were going there, and even though I'm black, we thought that I should be able to go to that school," Hereford said.

Decades later Hereford shares the story of their family's heroism with schools like the Montessori Learning Center.

"Even going back to the way my dad was treated when he grew up here in Madison County, it's very emotional," Hereford explained. "Some of the things are very hard to talk about even this many decades later."

But, teaching kindness and acceptance to bright-eyed children gives him hope for the future.

"They will think back to those injustices in the past and they will promise never to be a part of those kinds of injustices," Hereford said.

"The younger they are, the more open they are in some ways to just learning everything," Karen Falkowski, a retired Montessori teacher, said. "They're embracing the world."