Black History Fun Fact Friday – Dr. Sonnie Wellington Hereford III

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.

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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 Hereford continued to go on to inspire change and even co-authored a book, Beside the Troubled Waters: A Black Doctor Remembers Life, Medicine, and Civil Rights in an Alabama Town.

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.

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Learn more about Sonnie at the informative video below!

https://www.facebook.com/drsonniehereford/

http://wjou.org/huntsville-revisited-dr-sonnie-wellington-hereford-iii/

Hundreds attend funeral for Dr. Sonnie Hereford III, Huntsville civil rights pioneer

Huntsville City Schools breaks ground on new Sonnie Hereford Elementary

 

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Black History Fun Fact Friday – Selma Burke

Welcome back to Black History Fun Facts where I am still not finished with my original article (lol), but I got you covered.

Now, we are familiar with Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and many of the writers and musicians of The Harlem Renaissance Movement. What we are not always familiar with are the painters, photographers, and sculptors. That is why when I find someone great, I like to highlight them.

Before we go on, take a moment and dig into your purse, wallet or coin jar (or coin purse….I know some of ya’ll still have them!) Wherever you keep your change, pick out a dime.

In the 1920s, Selma Burke became one of the African American women of the Harlem Renaissance through her relationship with the writer Claude McKay. The two shared a Manhattan apartment but McKay was mean, destroying her work when he didn’t like it, and the relationship was a strange one. Nonetheless, it was through Claude that Burke got introduced to the Harlem community. She studied under another black woman sculptor of the movement, Augusta Savage.

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Selma Burke in her studio, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0100403.

An educator, Burke later taught at the Harlem Community Art Center and founded the Selma Burke Art School in New York City and the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh. (This makes her one of my heroes since I do want to start my own school one day.) Burke is most famous for her 1944 sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which was the model for his image on the dime, though she never received credit for it. Only now are people starting to recognize that she was the inspiration behind the image.

Burke’s sculpting of the image came about as part of a contest, where she wrote the White House stating that she could not sculpt the image from a photo alone. The White House responded and granted her a sitting with the president. The credit for the plaque was given to U.S. Mint Chief Engraver John Sinnock but it was Burke who created the original design. Burke also sculpted Booker T. Washington and later, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Burke made sculpture by shaping white clay from her parents’ farm as a child. After being educated at what is now Winston-Salem State University and trained as a nurse at St. Agnes Hospital Nursing School in Raleigh, Burke moved to New York City to work as a private nurse.

“Selma Burke was born on December 31, 1900, in Mooresville, North Carolina, the seventh of 10 children of Neil and Mary Colfield Burke. Her father was an AME Church Minister who worked on the railroads for additional income. As a child, she attended a one-room segregated schoolhouse and often played with the riverbed clay found near her home. She would later describe the feeling of squeezing the clay through her fingers as the first encounter with sculpture, saying “It was there in 1907 that I discovered me.” – Wikipedia

After completing a Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University in 1941, Burke began to teach art, first at the Harlem Community Art Center and later at schools she founded in New York and Pittsburgh.

Burke’s last monumental work, a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Marshall Park in Charlotte, was completed in 1980. Selma Burke died in 1995 in New Hope, Pennsylvania.