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Local school hosts first person to integrate Alabama schools

Holy Spirit Regional Catholic School in Huntsville was honored to host Sonnie Hereford, IV, during Black History Month. Hereford spoke to 5th-8th graders about Huntsville in the 1950s and 1960s, including his experience as the first black student to enter an all-white school. His story of integrating Alabama schools was so important for Holy Spirit's students to hear and experience.

Hereford told stories and showed photos depicting his life during that time, including anecdotes of protests, segregated water fountains, and his first day at the newly-desegregated Fifth Avenue School. He said that although a federal court in Birmingham had ruled in August 1963 that Hereford and three other black students should be admitted to the traditionally whites-only schools in Huntsville, rather than allow a black student to attend the first day of school, the Governor actually closed the school to all students for four days. President Kennedy then wrote a letter to Governor Wallace demanding that he obey the law, and on Monday, Sept. 9, 1963, Hereford was allowed to enter the school.

Hereford recounted many other interesting events, including a school board meeting which adjourned before school integration could be discussed, despite it being an item on the agenda. Another poignant story demonstrated that black people were not allowed to attend concerts: Hereford's father owned an expensive violin which he loaned to a white symphony orchestra player to play in a concert. "The violin was good enough to go to the concert,” he said, “but Dad was not ... That's the way things were.” Finally, Hereford told students that in order to register to vote, black people would have to answer silly questions like, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" If they did not answer “correctly,” they were not allowed to register.

One of Hereford's many photos depicted his father with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the photo, the men are about the same height, and Hereford said that at 5'6", he himself was a little taller than his father (and thus, Dr. King, as well). He said, "You don't have to be tall to be a giant."

Hereford is a gifted storyteller, and Holy Spirit School is so grateful that its students had an opportunity to hear from someone who played such a big part in Alabama’s history.