In 1963, Sonnie Hereford IV, just a 6-year-old boy then, became the first Black child to attend a White public school in Alabama.
Hundreds in the Huntsville community attended the funeral on Tuesday of his father, Dr. Sonnie Hereford III, WHNT-TV reports.
Hereford died on July 7 at age 85. He’s remembered in the community as the man who was determined to break down the wall of segregation that prevented Alabama’s Black children from obtaining an equal education.
Despite a federal court order, the Huntsville Board of Education refused to allow his son to enroll in an all-White school. But Hereford, a physician, persisted. Six days later, his son made state history, according to AL.com.
This photograph shows Hereford and his son returning home after school officials turned him away on his first attempt to attend Huntsville’s Fifth Avenue School.
On the 50th anniversary, father and son recreated their historic walk.
Hereford recalled, in an interview with AL.com, that he and his son faced a lot of hostility on the day they walked up to the school gate.
“There was a mob out there, I guess 150, 175 parents and kids. They called my son and me everything you can think of,” he remembered.
More than five decades later, he’s applauded for his courage. AL.com said Huntsville Mayor Thomas Battle praised the civil rights leader after learning about his death.
“Sonnie was a quiet, servant leader who led by actions rather than words,” the mayor said. “We will remember his courage as a civil rights pioneer. He will be truly missed in our community.”
Speaking at the funeral, the younger Mr. Hereford noted other ways that his father impacted the community. The doctor delivered more than 2,200 babies and taught at Calhoun Community College and Alabama A&M University, where he graduated, reported WHNT-TV.
Dr. Hereford leaves behind his wife, Martha Adams Hereford, six children, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.