Sonnie Hereford IV reflects on time with Rep. John Lewis

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Celebrations and services honoring the life of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis started Saturday in his hometown of Troy.

Lewis impacted millions, including in North Alabama. Civil rights activist Sonnie Hereford IV looked up to the late congressman.

Back in 2013, Sonnie Hereford IV sat shoulder to shoulder with Lewis during a panel discussion on race relations. Hereford said everyone knew who Lewis was. So much so, the moderator had to even the field.

“He asked me to talk a little bit about my background. Everyone knew why John Lewis was there,” Hereford said.

Hereford earned a spot at the table as he was the first African American student in Alabama to be integrated into a public school system. At the time, the Votings Right Act was under fire. The topic came up during the panel.

“I made some point about that. About how disgusted I was with what they were trying to do,” Hereford said. “The highlight to me. One of the thrills of my life was John Lewis turning to me, telling me and telling the audience that he had been in California the week before and tried to make that same point but hadn’t made it as well as I did.”

That moment is ingrained into Hereford’s memory. A man who sacrificed and endured so much had tipped his hat to Hereford

“To have the greatest living civil rights hero turn to me and say, ‘You said that better than I did,’ It was a thrill,” Hereford said.

Lewis wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty while also being widely regarded as someone who could reach across the aisle to get things done. Hereford can’t see society today without seeing the impact Lewis left behind.

“I don’t think we would have been in a position to now make the progress we are making as a result of the George Floyd incident,” he said.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey ordered all flags to be lowed to half staff until Monday at sunrise in Lewis’ honor.

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