Huntsville civil rights pioneer Dr. Sonnie Hereford dead at 85 - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Huntsville civil rights pioneer Dr. Sonnie Hereford dead at 85

Dr. Sonnie Hereford, III (Source: WAFF) Dr. Sonnie Hereford, III (Source: WAFF)
Dr. Hereford our the new school (Source: Huntsville City Schools) Dr. Hereford our the new school (Source: Huntsville City Schools)

The man responsible for initiating school integration into then all-white schools in Huntsville, and across Alabama, has died.

Dr. Sonnie Hereford III, passed away after suffering from colon cancer on Thursday morning. His death was confirmed by friends of the family. He was 85-years-old.

Hereford’s son became the first African-American student in the state to attend a previously all-white school back in 1963. His decision came just days after watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march on Washington.

READ MORE: Civil Rights pioneer reflects on 50 year anniversary 

"This happened in an atmosphere in violence just six days after the integration of the Fifth Avenue school. The Klan exploded the bomb of the 16th Street Baptist Church,"said Hereford's autobiographer Jack Ellis.

Ellis recalled his first time meeting the man he would later write about.

"When I first met Dr. Hereford about 20 years ago, I was not only impressed by his kindness, but also by his conviction and his courage. To act on his convictions in the peaceful protests that Dr. King preached about took extraordinary courage back in the world I grew up in in Huntsville in the 1960s."

Dr. Wayman Burke/Former Teacher of Hereford: "I hope he would be remembered as a man who had courage when it took courage. Who did not let fear stand in the way of doing what he thought he was doing what was right. That's the ultimate act of courage," said Dr. Wayman Burke, a former teacher.

In fact, Dr. Hereford faced threats on his life and the lives of his family members. But the cause overcame the cost.

Hereford had incredible foresight to capture much on film, with his 8-millimeter camera. He knew history was being made, and knew he was in the middle of it. He later transferred that historic footage onto DVDs which he carried with him on speaking engagements across the country. 

A new elementary school in Huntsville, named after Hereford, is set to open in August. Dr. Hereford toured Sonnie Hereford Elementary School, along with his family in May. 

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