Doctor Shares Struggles in Segregated South for Black History Month

Created: 02/10/2014 10:49 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 News) -- We are right in the middle of black history month. Today, an African American doctor who shattered racial barriers in Huntsville, Alabama spoke at Mayo Clinic.

"I think people up North need to know how things used to be down South,” said Dr. Sonnie Hereford III.

Dr. Sonnie Hereford III has endless stories of struggle as a black doctor during the 1950’s and 60’s in Alabama. "There were several buildings that had signs that said office space for rent, but when they saw my face they said no we don't have any vacancies,” said Hereford.

Dr. Hereford was one of the only African American physicians in Huntsville at the time. He also led demonstrations and boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, Hereford's son became the first black child enrolled at an Alabama public school.

"We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” said Hereford.

He's at Mayo Clinic as an inspiration, with stories that helped open doors for minorities.

"When you think about people like Dr. Hereford and the Mayo brothers and the foundation that they laid for our community and the fabric that was set for us, it gave an opportunity like me as an African American scientist to actually have a role in our community,” said Joyce Balls-Berry, African Descendant Mayo Employee Resource Group.

"There's still huge health disparities for a variety of different groups whether it's race, ethnicity, socio-economic group or even living in a rural area sets up some health disparities that effect outcome and affect us all,” said Dr. Sharonne Hayes, Mayo’s Director of Mayo’s Diversity and Inclusion.

Many still see room for conversation, sharing stories that celebrate our differences as well as the struggles that make us similar. "That breaks down bridges and brings up opportunity for change,” said Balls-Berry.

“Fight for freedom and equality, not only racial equality but gender equality too,” said Hereford.

Dr. Hereford spoke at the University of Wisconsin Lacrosse last week as well. He's also wrote a memoir called "Beside the Troubled Waters."