I learned a lot revising The Stella Trilogy, but the most important lesson I learned is, “the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.” I don’t know who the original author is of this saying, and I know there are many versions of the same quote.
This means to me, the first time you get an idea is not the same time you will bring it forward. I had wanted to revise The Stella Trilogy for a long time, but it was hard to imagine taking the time to launch a book that has already released, let alone three. It was hard to imagine having the resources to produce three new covers, edit three separate books, format them, and all that other jazz.
But the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.
I had to wait until I had the time and resources to get it done.
Then, I had to put it in my mind that once I began, I would have to keep going. This meant no waiting two and three months between books. If I was going to release book one, books two and three had to be right behind it.
And I’m sort of a slow writer.
It’s incredible to realize that what we put into our mind can manifest as we planned it if we are disciplined and patient enough.
It’s even more incredible to know that although a man plans his way, Yah guides his steps. (Prov. 16:9)
I wanted to release these books back to back, and I am thankful that I could accomplish what I set out to do.
It was hard for me to see the purpose of this endeavor at first, but revising these books helped me to see visions of another series using the same characters from The Stella Trilogy (something like a spin-off) with Joseph’s children.
Isn’t that amazing? Maybe revising this story wasn’t about what was already there, so much as what can grow from it.
I am excited about where these visions will take me and so happy to have you here with me.
Book three follows Stella’s son Joseph after a fight with his brother compels a young Joseph to leave his mother’s house and join his friends for a trip to Atlanta for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) second conference. Excited to live life on their own, Jo and his friends have left school and the lives they were living for a chance to become part of the movement. With no money and virtually no plan, the seven friends, three black and four white, set out for the road when they are stopped by a racist cop who makes them exit the car. The teens are unaware that a mob of Klansmen await them at the New Orleans bus terminal. Find out in the third installment of the Stella Trilogy how Joseph and his friends discover the hard way that freedom has never been free.
When you think of the civil rights movement, what cities come to mind? Mobile? Birmingham? Atlanta? some place, Mississippi? How about Jacksonville, Florida? Probably not, but this southern city and its leaders were just as influential as Selma.
I found this out four years ago, when I posted this photo to my blog.
A fellow blogger noticed the background and sent it to her friend, Rodney L. Hurst Sr. Mr. Hurst contacted me about purchasing a copy and explained the meaning of the sign behind the gentlemen’s heads.
I was excited to hear about this little-known Black history fact and asked Mr. Hurst to a breakfast interview to understand more.
KG: Can you describe a little bit about what Ax Handle Saturday was and what happened?
RH: I was president of the Youth Council NAACP and I led the sit-ins at the ripe old age of sixteen. My mentor was a guy named Rutledge Pearson.
KG: A school is named after him?
RH: Yes. One school is named after him. In fact, he and Earl Johnson were inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame earlier this month (2016) in Tallahassee. He taught me eighth-grade American history. When I went to his class, he told me about the textbook and had other class members to talk about the textbook and then he said leave it home.
Mr. Pearson would not teach American history from the slanted and racist viewpoint of white textbook authors and historians. Our study of American history did not revolve around a book that only had the names of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. We studied John Hope Franklin, Althea Gibson, and Thurgood Marshall.
The first book report I did was on a guy named Toussaint Louverture, who fast became one of my favorites. He led the only successful slave revolt in this hemisphere, eventually became the Father of Haiti, and because of what he was able to do in Central America in fighting Napoleon, and controlling the shipping routes, Napoleon had to sell Louisiana territory to this country. You will never read his name in an American history book and he is inextricably bound to the history of this country.
In Mr. Pearson’s history class, it was Black history every day in his class. He also said, freedom is not free; if you’re not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. He encouraged us to join the Youth Council of NAACP. American history teacher in an eighth-grade class encouraging his students to join the Youth Council NAACP?
KG: You would get fired today doing that.
RH: Sure. And I joined when I was age 11, became president when I was 15, and led the sit-ins when I was 16. The sit-ins in Jacksonville were led by high-school students, which is one of the reasons we did it during the summer, as opposed to college students who were able to do it year-round.
We sat in Woolworth’s, where the federal courthouse is now. We sat in at the lunch counters: Kress, Woolworths, Grants, and McCory’s, which were downtown stores. And every downtown department store had a white lunch counter. Some had colored lunch counters, like Woolworths, which was at the back of the store. Others didn’t have colored lunch counters, but you would go to the end of the white lunch counter to order.
KG: But you couldn’t sit down?
RH: You couldn’t sit down. If the waitresses would come and take your order, then okay. So, we said, “No!” During my senior year we sat in. We sat in for two weeks. Woolworths closed the lunch counter. There were whites who stood behind us yelling, jungle bunny, nigger, go back to Africa ‘cause they couldn’t get their fresh lunches.
Two weeks later on August 27th, we were sitting in at Grants, which was on the corner of Adams and Main Street. And there were other incidents leading up to that. We had a white student, Parker, who joined us from Florida State (University) and the whites who were behind us thought he was the leader. Some white construction workers were standing behind him with big construction tools and these guys picked him up and formed a circle around him and walked him out to safety. All this time there were no police in downtown Jacksonville.
One guy had whittled off the end of his walking cane and would walk behind each of us and stuck all of us in the back with his walking cane. Again, no police. When we were attacked, we were attacked by 200 white men with ax handles and baseball bats. Black downtown was attacked. If you were white and tried to protect those Blacks downtown, you were attacked, too. When the word finally got out, then police came from everywhere.
Mr. Hurst described what happened to Parker, the white FSU student who supported the sit-ins and also Leander Shaw, Florida Supreme Court judge’s role in enacting justice. The details are outlined in his historical memoir It Was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke!
But I want to stop here and emphasize a few points about meeting and talking with Mr. Hurst.
Understanding Black history in your city is important. I’m not from Jacksonville, but I’ve lived here for approximately 20 years. Prior to our happenstance meeting, I’d never heard of Rodney L. Hurst Sr. Subsequently, before our conversation, I was ignorant to the role Jacksonville played in the Movement. I’d heard of Rutledge Pearson Elementary School, but I didn’t know the significance of the person for whom it was named. I wonder if the 95% Black student population knows the rich history to which they’re connected?
Living history is important. Ax Handle Saturday occurred August 27, 1960. That’s 60 years ago. Mr. Hurst is old enough to be my father, not my grandfather or great-grandfather, my father. Sometimes, grainy documentaries make racial oppression seem as if it was eons ago. My conversation with Mr. Hurst reminded me that it was not. Luckily for the K-12 and college students he speaks to, he’s able to authenticate a perspective of a time period that is linked to our country’s history.
Teacher autonomy is important. As a former high-school English teacher, I have to highlight the autonomy teachers had in the 60s. Mr. Hurst’s history teacher was able to make an informed decision about his students and what resources they needed in order to be successful, in not only understanding history in America, but also in transforming their communities. Mr. Hurst was directly influenced by Rutledge’s off-script lessons and push to join an organization specifically with their best interests at heart. Hurst possibly would have never been a part of Ax Handle Saturday had Rutledge stuck to a scripted curriculum.
The takeaways from our interview are endless. But if nothing else, I hope these words inspire you to learn more about the influential Black people in your area because, after all, Black history is American history.
Katherin is a First Place Royal Palms Literary Award winning writer for Creative Nonfiction. Her work has been featured in the South Florida Times, Talking Soup and For Harriet. She typically writes in order to inspire social change. Other examples of her work can be found on her personalblog.
On the tail-end of his TMZ interview, Kanye West posed a question, “is it true that blacks used to be Republican?” He went on to say, “the majority of African Americans used to be Republican….what was the reason that majority of blacks went from being Republican to being Democrats?”
I thought it would be a good time to merge current events with a fun fact for anyone who may have been left confused. While I won’t say that every black American did so (that wouldn’t be accurate), it is true that until the 1960s, the majority black American voted Republican. And for the record, let me be crystal clear: I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat. They are two wings of the same bird as far as I am concerned. Malcolm X said it best:
I’m no politician. I’m not even a student of politics. I’m not a Republican, nor a Democrat, nor an American – and got sense enough to know it. I’m one of the 22 million black victims of the Democrats. One of the 22 million black victims of the Republicans and one of the 22 million black victims of Americanism. And when I speak, I don’t speak as a Democrat or a Republican, nor an American.
Due the African American experience in this country (U.S.), most black voters I’ve spoken to support the party they feel are in the best interest of black people (even if they really aren’t, ijs) and back then this party was the Republican party. It was the party of Lincoln, who many blacks saw as a hero because of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the enslaved in certain states.
A little-known fact is that Martin Luther King Dr. was closer to Republican candidate Richard Nixon than he was Kennedy. King and Nixon were friends. They met in Ghana in March 1957 and agreed to stay in touch. That summer, Nixon worked with King to strengthen the 1957 Civil Rights Bill.
“I will long remember the rich fellowship which we shared together and the fruitful discussion that we had,” Dr. King later wrote to the vice president, telling him “how deeply grateful all people of goodwill are to you for your assiduous labor and dauntless courage in seeking to make the Civil Rights Bill a reality… This is certainly an expression of your devotion to the highest mandates of the moral law.” – MLK
Nixon replied, “I am sure you know how much I appreciate your generous comments. My only regret is that I have been unable to do more than I have. Progress is understandably slow in this field, but we at least can be sure that we are moving steadily and surely ahead.” (Read Nixon’s full letter to King Here.)
Because what halted their friendship had a lot to do with what also ultimately halted the majority black vote of the Republican Party.
In his fiery inaugural speech in January of 1963, the new governor of Alabama, George Wallace had pledged, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” (you know, the clip used in every documentary about the civil rights movement) This launched civil rights protests throughout the city of Birmingham, Alabama.
Birmingham at the time was already a very racists city. It was where lots of Civil Rights activity took place that was met with violence and the city was nicknamed Bomingham because of the number of bombings that took place on a regular basis from people in opposition to integration. Such bombings resulted in the bombing of homes and lead to such tragedies as the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963 killing four little girls. The church stood in an area common for such attacks.
When King was arrested on October 19, 1960 during a sit-in protest of lunch counters in Atlanta and sentenced to hard labor, Civil Rights Activists approached both sides, Democratic and Republican, rallying for someone to do something to get King out of jail. Nixon even got a visit from Jackie Robinson, asking him to help with getting Dr. King out. Robinson was opposed to John F. Kennedy as President because he thought he was weak on Civil Rights and so did many black Americans at that time. It was common knowledge that the Democrats had the support of Southern racists. During the campaign, Kennedy raised suspicions in the black community by his support of Southerners, meeting privately with them and promising Governor Vandiver that as president he would never use federal troops to force Georgia to desegregate its schools.
Long story short, Nixon shot Robinson down, saying, it would be “grandstanding” to speak out in defense of King, according to his aide William Safire. This forever changed Nixon and King’s relationship….and King’s endorsement.
“I always felt that Nixon lost a real opportunity to express … support of something much larger than an individual, because this expressed support of the movement for civil rights in a way. And I had known Nixon longer. He had been supposedly close to me, and he would call me frequently about things, getting, seeking my advice. And yet, when this moment came, it was like he had never heard of me, you see.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It is my opinion that Nixon withdrew because he had ulterior motives with starting Cointel Pro, the Counter Intelligence Program that destroyed such black revolutionary organizations as The Black Panthers.
Meanwhile, Bobby and Jack Kennedy discussed the political ramifications of getting King out of jail. Senator Kennedy phoned Governor Vandiver asking if there was anything the Governor could do to get King out. (Thomas, Evans (2013). Robert Kennedy: His Life. pp 103.) Vandiver didn’t want to do it but he wanted Kennedy to win the presidency. A call was made to Coretta Scott King, word got out about the phone call, rumors spread, and shortly afterward, King was released from jail. Upon landing in Atlanta, King endorsed Kennedy and because blacks supported King, they supported Kennedy in mass.
While I cannot say for sure this swung the black vote in the Democrats favor 100% (there’s no way to provide proof of this on my part), I do know it had a LOT to do with it.
“Nixon in 1960 won just 32 percent… Four years later, facing Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson won 94 percent of the black vote, which set a demographic pattern that endures.”
Meanwhile, Kennedy had been in the White House for years and had not delivered on his promise to support new anti-discrimination measures. When he was a Senator, he had promised that he would which resulted in a ton of support from African American voters.
“The first thing the cracker does when he comes in power, he takes all the Negro leaders and invites them for coffee. To show that he’s all right. And those Uncle Toms can’t pass up the coffee. They come away from the coffee table telling you and me that this man is all right. Oh, I say you been misled. You been had. You been took.”
– Malcolm X
Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X Speeches and Writings (Atlanta, GA: Pathfinder Press, 1992), 59
It wasn’t until violent protests forced Kennedy to act that he did act. Racial tensions had reached a fever pitch. American citizens were horrified to see blacks being bitten by dogs, beaten with clubs, and drowned with water-hoses. Protests were getting more violent. All of this led up to the signing of the Civil Rights Act. John F. Kennedy proposed and Lyndon B Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement
…and many blacks have been voting Democratic ever since.
“He was sentenced to six months at hard labor, but presidential candidate John F. Kennedy reached out to the King family and helped secure Dr. King’s release, earning him pivotal black votes that would help him win the presidency that year.”
“The government itself has failed us. And once we see that all of these other sources to which we’ve turned have failed, we stop turning to them and turn to ourselves. We need a self-help program, a do-it-yourself philosophy, a do-it-right-now philosophy, a it’s-already-too-late philosophy. This is what you and I need to get with. And the only time – the only way we’re going to solve our problem is with a self-help program. Before we can get a self-help program started, we have to have a self-help philosophy.”
Today I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Alycee Lane. Welcome to The PBS Blog! Let’s get started.
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Alycee Lane and I’m from Buffalo, New York.
Nice, I’ve been to New York once. What is the most annoying habit that you have?
I laugh loudly at my own jokes, including the ones I tell in my own head.
Lol. What was your childhood dream?
My childhood dream was to be a doctor who would cure cancer. That dream ended when, at the age of six, I was spanked vigorously for having poured my secret cure into my mother’s milk at the dinner table.
Oh wow. You rebel you. What skill would you like to master?
I really would like to master playing the saxophone, but I’d actually have to learn how to play the saxophone.
Lol. I love it. What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
I think it would be amazing to venture off to Antarctica. On the other hand, I left Buffalo, New York for a reason (spoiler: it wasn’t because of buffalo wings).
Speaking of wings, what’s your favorite food?
Anything with pork, which is why being a vegetarian, is pretty damn hard.
Oh Alycee. That was not the right answer. Anything but pork! Don’t do it lol. What kind of music do you like?
I can’t get enough of jazz and blues.
What do you wish you knew more about?
Black holes. The idea of them really blows my mind.
In your own words, define racism.
Voting for Donald Trump.
LOL. What TV channel exists but really shouldn’t?
FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS.
Are you religious Alycee?
Yes. I attend Bedside Baptist every Sunday (this is one of those moments when I am laughing at my own joke).
Rofl. You are a trip. Let’s talk about my favorite subject. How long have you been writing? Tell us a little bit about the journey thus far.
I have been writing earnestly since 2012, though I had written some academic papers before then. A few months before my dad died in 2010, he asked me, “when are you going to write?” He knew it was my life aspiration. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that, in my mind, I had decided to let that dream go. I was done. When I reflect on that moment, I’m inclined to believe that, on some spiritual level, he did know that I had given up. Those who are facing death often see and know things quite clearly. And if they’re your parents…well, then they see through you as well. I remember shrugging, in that way children do when they’ve been caught. The question bothered me enough that, two years later, when my mother’s health began to fail, I was writing like crazy.
In some ways, then, my writing has been a journey through grief, as well as a return to who I really am – the person whom my father clearly knew and saw. For that reason, the journey has also been a powerful one.
That’s powerful. What’s the most difficult thing about being a writer?
The most difficult thing about being a writer is keeping a muzzle on the little critic who sits on my shoulder and pretends to be my muse. The most exciting thing is creating that perfect sentence, the one that sounds right.
“Once I was willing to step out of the closet and be completely vulnerable – to expose myself knowing that I could very well become (even more) an object of hate and of violence from people who looked like me and from those who didn’t– once I allowed myself to be that raw, I became absolutely and devastatingly powerful.”
I don’t know. It is. I think I would talk too much if I didn’t write. Or –or, I would finally learn how to play the sax.
I understand that you specialized in African American literature and culture of the civil rights and black power movements. You also explore political issues through the prism of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence. I love the Panthers as well as Dr. King. What attracted you to this kind of work? Can you tell us a little bit about your inspirations?
Okay, so not the easiest questions for someone who’s spent the whole day with a five-year-old.
Lol. Answer the question Alycee!
I come from a very political family, so I naturally gravitated toward studying the literature and culture of the CR/BP movements (plus, I am old enough to remember the Free Angela Davis movement, and I used to shout “Black Power” out of my school bus window while being bused across town. To this day, I remember the “White Power” sign that hung from one of the houses I passed every day to get to my integrated school).
So, my main inspirations were my parents, as well as my brothers and sister. Then there were my professors at Howard University, mainly Patricia Jones Jackson and Claudia Tate, from whom I took Howard’s first Black Women Writers class. I went to Howard intending to matriculate for law school and ended up leaving there with a Ph.D. on my mind. Good teachers can do that to you. Also among my influencers: Valerie Smith, Richard Yarborough, and Kim Crenshaw.
Oh, yeah: Toni Morrison, Barbara Smith, Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, Cheri Moraga, Audre Lorde, Sweet Honey in the Rock, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, Nina Simone. Countless women I have loved and who have loved me.
With regards to my blog writing: an “ex” did me two favors. The first was gifting me a collection of King’s work. The second was keeping a copy of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step in her bookcase. Reading both radically changed this deconstructionist’s heady, cynical life. Having said that, I like to think that I arrived at this place of a commitment to nonviolence and engaged Buddhist practice through the influence of the Panthers, Fanon, Malcolm X, and others.
Now, my five-year-old is my main inspiration. Every day she teaches me how much work I have to do. There’s nothing more humbling than having someone who has been on earth for merely 1800+ days tell you that you don’t know anything about nothin’. Just plain dumb.
If you had one superpower that could change the world, what would it be?
My superpower would be this: I would make men cry simply by showing them the hand. Why this power? Because I suspect that much of the world’s violence can be attributed to the fact that too many men are unable to cry, to live from the heart, to be vulnerable, to be tender.
What genre do you write in, why?
I primarily write nonfiction, though I suspect this is a cop-out. I don’t know – I’m kind of with Arandati Roy on this: these are not the times for fiction.
I disagree, there is always a time for Fiction!
Alycee, thank you for spending this time with us! We enjoyed you.
Alycee Lane is an Oakland, California-based writer and blogger.
A graduate of Howard University, Alycee studied English literature and later obtained her Doctorate of Philosophy from UCLA, where she specialized in African American literature and culture of the civil rights and black power movements. From 1995 to 2003, she served as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, after which she obtained her Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall).
Alycee has also written a number of scholarly and other articles on subjects ranging from the Black Panther Party to mitigation evidence in death penalty cases to climate change. In 1993, she was awarded the Audre Lorde Quill Award from the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum for the essays and interviews that she produced for BLK, a news magazine dedicated to the African American gay and lesbian community, as well as for her work as editor of Black Lace, the first ever African American lesbian erotic magazine.
First, I want to say that Birth of a Movement is a good documentary on Netflix and is the inspiration behind this post.
We are familiar with the name W.E.B. Dubois but I do not hear much concerning William Monroe Trotter and that’s a shame. While I do not agree with his dissension with Booker T. Washington (I admire Washington, obviously), I do admire Monroe’s drive to stop a movement that ultimately led to a resurgence and second wave of one of the most terrorist groups in America, The Klu, Klux, Klan.
William Monroe Trotter was an African American newspaper editor and real estate businessman in Boston, Massachusetts born on April 7, 1872, in Chillicothe, Ohio. Raised in Hyde Park, Boston, his father, James, was a writer and former civil rights lieutenant who worked in real estate. Trotter excelled in academics growing up, becoming his predominantly-white high school’s class president and attending Harvard University in the early 1890s. He was a friend of W.E.B. Dubois who also attended Harvard alongside him. The friends graduated in 1895, the same year that Booker T. Washington delivers the famous 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech.
Trotter was an early activist for Black Civil rights and produced similar Civil Rights results in 1915 as that of the 1960s marches. He was an early opponent of Booker T. Washington (sigh… I just think Booker had a point but whatever), and in 1901 founded the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper, as a vehicle to express that opposition.
In 1905, Trotter joins W.E.B. DuBois in founding the Niagara Movement, the precursor to the NAACP. However, Trotter did not agree entirely with the organization. The NAACP’s top officers were white men and it only made sense to Trotter that the National Association for the Advancement of “Colored” People is run and operated by “Colored” people. It was not. The NAACP was founded by Jews and ran by the same. For this, Trotter decided to part with the organization. Instead, he founded his own organization called The National Equal Rights League. He also co-founded the Boston Literary and Historical Association (the oldest nationwide human rights organization founded in Syracuse, New York in 1864 dedicated to the liberation of black people in the United States) with colleague George Forbes and established The Guardian newspaper. The publication pushed for Black equality.
Trotters most famous acts of Civil Rights is his stand against David Wark Griffith’s, landmark film, The Birth of a Nation, a racists play turned movie by author Thomas Dixon. Originally called The Clansmen, the book turned play became a massive bestseller. It also had the endorsement of The White House as it was screened at the house and praised as “History as Lightening” (Wilson).
Trotter began a campaign against Dixon’s play turned film when it opened in Boston in 1910, which portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as heroes. While his protests succeeded in closing the production, The Clansmen changed its name to The Birth of a Nation and in April 1915 was scheduled to open in Boston. Trotter rushed back to lead protests against the film. In April, the Tremont Theatre was denying African American’s admission, to include Trotter. When blacks refused to leave the lobby, plainclothes police moved in, sparking a fight. Trotter and ten others were arrested; other protests took place both inside and outside the theater. It resulted in a mini-riot. Trotter, united with other African-American community members, could not get the film banned in Boston. Interestingly enough, Booker T. Washington dies later this year, November of 1915 in Tuskegee Alabama.
The KKK had a revival for a decade after 1915, especially in industrial cities and the Midwest. In 1919, Trotter appeared at the Paris Peace Conference in an unsuccessful effort to have the organization outlaw racial discrimination. But, in 1921, Trotter was successful in shutting down new screenings of The Birth of a Nation in Boston. He also led demonstrations against events, plays, and films that glorified The Ku Klux Klan. William Monroe Trotter died on April 7, 1934, in Boston.
Far as finances is concerned, it’s still unknown exactly how much The Birth of a Nation grossed, but it did very well in sales. D.W. Griffith is still recognized as the man who pioneered modern cinematic techniques with his use of advanced camera and narrative techniques. Griffith is also one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and popularized the use of the close-up shot and his skill is still taught in film school. Meanwhile, in the 1920s, his film The Birth of a Nation continued to spark a resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, which produced a second wave in Atlanta, Georgia, inspired by the film. This terrorist organization would go on to terrorize millions of blacks over the years.
Its late but Friday is not over people! Well, not for some of us anyway so we’re going to squeeze this article on in.
Today, we have a special fun fact for you. My maiden name is Hereford and I have a mother, brother, and sisters who still carry this last name. In fact, I’ve met very few people with this name I was not related to. Unlike Johnson, Brown or Jackson (no shade to those with these last names), Hereford is not as common. So when I came across this man online, I was noticeably interested. My mother says that my grandfather, her father, is from Alabama and that Sonnie looks like her dad. This has prompted me to do more research on the man and to plan a visit to Alabama to discover more. It’s possible we had a Civil Rights Activist in the family and didn’t know it. In 1961, Hereford was one of the plaintiffs suing the Huntsville school system to end segregation, and in 1963, his son, Sonnie Hereford IV, was one of the first four black children to enroll in a previously all-white public school in Alabama. But, let’s start from the beginning.
Dr. Sonnie Wellington Hereford III was born on January 7, 1931, in Huntsville, Alabama. The family had no running water or electricity and Sonnie had to walk seven miles to school. The school, next to a garbage dump, didn’t have a library or cafeteria, much like most black schools at the time. Hereford was a farmer but developed a love for education. Even though his school had no library, the teachers were invested in him as they were in all their students. Though lacking in resources, black schooling at the time was exceptional, involving a strong community spirit and discipline. Teachers took on more than just a role as a teacher but they were also mothers, fathers, and mentors. For this, Sonnie received a good education and decided he wanted to become a doctor.
Sonnie graduated first in his class and applied to the University of Alabama for their pre-med program. However, Sonnie’s application was denied because of his color so he enrolled at Alabama A&M University instead. Hereford graduated from A&M in 2 years and went on to receive his medical degree from Meharry Medical College. He began his career at Huntsville Hospital in Huntsville Alabama and went on to play important roles in the struggle for Civil Rights. Not only was he a doctor but he also helped to aid men and women attacked during the Selma to Montgomery march, welcomed Martin Luther King Jr., to the city in 1962 and helped to integrate the city at various establishments. In fact, school desegregation is what Sonnie became most known for.
Sonnie IV was among four children chosen to desegregate schooling in Alabama and on September 3, 1963, Hereford took his six-year-old son to school but they could not get in. Instead, a mob waited for them and none of the other children were admitted to the other schools either. Sonnie didn’t give up, he returned but the school was locked down and guarded every day with armed troops. Eventually, Hereford contacted the federal judge and over time an order was issued to desegregate the schools in Huntsville. On Monday, September 9, 1963, Hereford successfully enrolled his son at Fifth Avenue School making Sonnie Hereford IV the first African-American student admitted to a previously all-white public school in Alabama. That following week, Sunday, September 15, the church bombing occurred in Birmingham killing four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
Sonnie died at 85 years old, two weeks before the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Sonnie Hereford Elementary School in Huntsville Alabama, named for him by the Huntsville board of education. The school ranges from Pre-K to sixth grade.
Learn more about Sonnie at the informative video below!
“This isn’t a revolution of Black against White. This is a revolution of right against wrong and right has always won.”
“They act like America was good and got bad. America ain’t never been good!”
“If they took all the drugs, nicotine, alcohol and caffeine off the market for six days, they’d have to bring out the tanks to control you.”
“Momma, a welfare cheater. A criminal who couldn’t stand to see her kids go hungry, or grow up in slumbs and end up mugging people in dar corners. I guess the system didn’t want her to get off relief, the way it kept sending social workers around to be sure Momma wasn’t trying to make things better.”
“I waited at the counter of a white restaurant for eleven years. When they finally integrated, they didn’t have what I wanted.”
“Poor is a state of mind you never grow out of, but being broke is just a temporary condition.”
“The most difficult thing to get people to do is to accept the obvious.”
“Education means to bring out wisdom. Indoctrination means to push in knowledge.”
“My belief is, you know, certain things have to be explained that’s never been explained.”