HUNTSVILLE, Ala - The first African-American students to integrate into the Huntsville City Schools system gathered on Wednesday to reflect on a key moment in Alabama history.
In 1963, Sonnie Hereford IV, David Osman, and Veronica Pearson were three of the first four African-American students to attend a public school in Alabama.
In contrast, Brown V Board of Education happened in 1954.
"There were all these people standing around, yelling and screaming. I'm thinking, 'Uh-Oh I've gotten myself into something now,'" said Pearson.
"I remember these individuals with guns and things. I thought it was a parade," said Osman.
Perspectives change with age. Pearson at age 13, walked into school where kids had their minds made up. Their morals were growing. But for Sonnie and David, 1963 was the start of 1st grade.
"Very few of those kids at 6-years-old had been taught that they weren't supposed to like me. My experiences were very favorable for the most part," said Hereford.
For 13-year-old Pearson, using the word 'favorable' is almost laughable when she thinks back on her experiences.
"When I went down to get the water and come back up, she slapped me across my face," said Pearson.
Decades later in a hospital room, Pearson came face-to-face with that woman. She apologized and explained she was wrong for thinking the way she did in 1963.
Flash forward to 2019, some 50 plus years later, Rankin Sneed, the son of a former Huntsville school board president, who was against integration came forward.
"I think if he were here today and maybe he's floating around here somewhere. I think he would say to you, 116 years after he was born, 'I'm awfully sorry,'" said Sneed to Pearson, Hereford, and Osman.
The group of three says the enormity of their path paving never really hit them until after graduation. All three agreed that they never saw integration failing in the early days. They said integration couldn't fail, they had to succeed.