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Former Huntsville students reflect on desegregating public schools, breaking color barrier

Hereford was the very first African American child to integrate in Alabama public schools at the Fifth Avenue School.

Posted: Nov 20, 2019 10:49 PM

The first African Americans to integrate in Alabama public schools shared the story of how they broke the color barrier, right here in Huntsville.

The Huntsville Hospital Spine and Neuro tower on Governors Drive sits on a historic piece of land. Fifty-six years ago when it was Fifth Avenue School, the first African American student enrolled and changed history forever.

The same day, three others enrolled at different schools. On Wednesday, three of the four reunited, and reflected on their places in Alabama history. 

"I was going into school and thought there was a parade and it had these guns and things up, and I thought wow this is really nice, I'm being welcomed in a parade!" David Osman said of his first day of school. 

"My father had told me before people were yelling and screaming and upset we were going into the school," Sonnie Hereford IV said.

Sept. 9, 1963. Sonnie Hereford IV, David Osman, John Brewton, and Veronica Pearson made history, enrolling in four different schools. Hereford and Osman remember the day they started first grade, but they were just 6 years old and didn't know the importance of their first steps inside.

"It was just another day, you know of getting ready to go to school, I'm excited about school," Osman said.

"It was probably around junior high or maybe even high school, it hit me how significant that was in Alabama history," Hereford said.

Hereford was the very first African American child to integrate in Alabama public schools at the Fifth Avenue School.

Both he and Osman say other students didn't treat them differently because they were all too young to believe they should.

"They get taught that they shouldn't like people that look different than they do," Hereford said.

The historical marker along Governors Drive represents a symbol of where it all started, and the group can't help but smile. They say it was difficult, but the historical impact is unmatched.

"There's still a little bit of history still walking around and able to share with others," Osman said.

"I was representing more than just myself and I had to conduct myself in a certain way," Hereford said. 

All four of the students have not been back together since 1963.

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