Plant your seed of freedom

“Sometimes all it takes is for one person to start something good in your community. In your community, that person could be you.”
– Hester Bass, Seeds of Freedom

I slid into the folding chair only minutes before the speaker stood up to introduce the author of the day. An elderly white man already seated motioned me in; he was alone and didn’t mind sharing his row with me.

I looked around the room at the public library. Quite a mix of people had gathered on this Sunday afternoon.

  • In front of me was a mom with three young girls, each holding a copy of the book Seeds of Freedom.
  • To the right of me was an older black woman, once a school librarian, and now wanting to write her own book, tell her own stories.
  • Ahead and behind were more white people, black people, old people, young people.

We wanted to hear children’s author Hester Bass. Her latest book, Seeds of Freedom (a multi-award winner), centers on integration in the 1960s in Huntsville, Alabama, next door to my home town.


I didn’t even know the stories she told, sitting today in a public library that blacks wouldn’t have been allowed to use back then.

They were quiet stories overall. But they were sad stories.

They told of little girls not being able to try on Easter dresses in stores. Not allowed to try on shoes. They’d trace their feet at home, bring the tracing to the store, and purchase a shoe that roughly matched.

The stories were also of little 6-year-old Sonnie Hereford IV, walking to the all-white Fifth Avenue School with his daddy, the physician Dr. Sonnie Hereford, on a September morning in 1963, only to discover the Huntsville schools had been closed by then-Governor George Wallace rather than mix black and white children in the same schools.


I saw an older black gentleman in front of me wipe an eye.

And so did the white man beside me.

But the stories told were also of another day, a few days later on September 9, 1963, the day when Sonnie was allowed in school, becoming the first black child enrolled in a white public school in Alabama. Stories of how he made friends with other boys and girls. Stories of peaceful Civil Rights demonstrations around town. Stories of sit-ins at a lunch counter nearby that did not erupt into violence.

The stories didn’t match the ones that happened 50 years ago this week in Selma, Alabama, 3 hours further south. On March 7, 1965—otherwise known as Bloody Sunday—600 peaceful marchers were attacked by state troopers and officials as they were marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (If you haven’t yet seen the movie Selma, go see it.)

People will gather in Selma again this weekend to remember that day and the days that followed. Including President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.

Listening to Hester Bass in the library now, I was thankful that Huntsville didn’t share a similar history of violence, even though discrimination occurred then and now in other ways, ways still painful and just as wrong.

At the end of Mrs. Bass’s speech and the reading of her book, she introduced two special guests: Sonny Hereford IV (now in his 50s) and his father Dr. Sonnie Hereford (in his 80s).

They stood and waved, the rest of us snapping our cameras and not knowing whether to laugh or cry from the weight of the moment.


In the end, I saw more smiles than tears that day, from those old enough to remember the injustices first-hand, from those too young to understand at all, and from those like me, understanding more now about a time we didn’t understand at all as it happened.

Now I want us all to understand.
To keep moving forward against injustice.
To each plant a seed of freedom, wherever it—wherever we—may grow.

Lord, have mercy.

* * *

Do you have memories of integration? Discrimination? Let’s talk in the comments.


36 thoughts on “Plant your seed of freedom

  1. bluecottonmemory

    I remember when I was in first grade – around 1968 – integration in the public schools meant white first graders in one classroom and black first graders in a separate classroom. When I went to the catholic school next year, classes were fully integrated. I loved how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas talked about it in is autobiography – that the nuns said God didn’t see color – He just saw souls – and they created an educational environment that promoted that.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      We’re so close in age–I remember about the same time when my school integrated. 1st and 2nd grade were all white, but 3rd grade we integrated. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I’m so thankful now that my parents didn’t pull me away from the experience. I need to read Justice Thomas’s book!

  2. Elizabeth

    What a wonderful event this must have been. I know we still have a long ways to go but sometimes I think these beautiful and hopeful stories, like this father and son, aren’t heard enough.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it was such a great event to be able to attend. There are so many stories out there that are worth hearing and retelling. I’m grateful for the Herefords’ willingness to retell their stories 50 years later.

  3. Jody Collins

    Lisa, what a powerful event. People need to keep telling their stories, that’s the only way to build the bridges to connect us as people in “one nation under God.”
    You are an inspirer.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Stories like that do need to be told over and over, among the generations to whom they happened, and to those who haven’t heard the stories at all. Yet. May we keep being the tellers!

  4. Laura

    OH my, this sounds like such a good time…so much pain in that room, but also so much life! I’m so glad these two men lived to see a very different day. Still so much work to do, though. Thank you for sharing this story with us, Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad those two men both lived to see a better world too, Laura. It was such a touching moment to see both sides shedding tears over the pain of it all. And now both together in the same room celebrating the changes. But yes, still more to come….

  5. Sharon

    What a precious time that must have been.

    This world is in such chaos right now. Prejudice and power struggles and discrimination and hatred unfortunately lurk in the human heart. We are all imperfect, and we are all guilty of shortsightedness and pride at times.

    May the Lord and His love be the equalizer that transcends across race, culture, religions, and society. May we all learn to show people that we are Christians by our love.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It is still a crazy time that we live in where prejudices rise to the surface that we may have thought were gone. And yes, it isn’t just “them” with the prejudices–we all have sins of pride that get in our way at different times and in different forms. Yes, may we let Jesus make the difference by showing love to everybody. Thanks for this, Sharon.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love that original picture from 1963. It speaks volumes to me. I don’t think they even know who originally took it. But I’m sure glad it was preserved all these years!

  6. Mary Geisen

    Lord have mercy and praise be to God that we have moved forward from those moments in 1963. I do not have any personal stories but have always been interested in Martin Luther King and the events that occurred then. I imagine that meeting the author of Seeds of Freedom and seeing Sonny and his father in person were powerful. Visiting you from Tell His Story.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Mary. It was definitely a powerful afternoon, more powerful than I had even anticipated. Something was electric in the room that day. We never know when moments like that will happen, so I was thankful that I drove to town that cold and rainy day to be there. God is good.

  7. Susan Mead

    Lisa, thank you. I recall the sign painted on the laundromat window. Only whites allowed. As a five year old in East Texas, I asked Mom, so where do you wash your colored clothes? Innocence started fading at the answer…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It definitely was an amazing story, Dolly. And it was one of those events that I just “happened” to see mentioned in the newspaper. God knows what we need to see! I’m glad he prompted me to follow up and attend.

  8. Dawn

    I am grateful that you shared this story, showing that there was a possibility for peace, a hope for good to be displayed in all the terribleness of the indecencies shown in our nation’s history. Being a lover of History, I have read stories, biographies, articles of so many voices blending and weaving remembrances. Having a mother who was a teen and young adult during the thick of the Civil Rights movement, I have heard her stories …her experiences… seen her tears over the pain she felt and even fear as she stood up for friends who had no one else to defend them. I have seen first hand the ridiculous attitude from people in relation to the color of skin, even in my sheltered youth so far North of all the major marks of this history battle. I have taught students the power of words and dreams, with MLK’s , “I have a Dream” speech, and the effect of his living on the world. And as I read your words today, and cried with you, I cried then. We are all touched by it in some way, but I come back to your ending words, ” Lord Have Mercy”. It is because of His mercy that we can find the good in it all, and it is because of His mercy and grace that we can step forward and reach out to hope.

    I am blessed today by your sharing. Thank you Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you so much, Dawn, for sharing this! I wish I had talked to my parents more about their experiences during the Civil Rights years; now they’re gone and I can’t. 🙁 What a blessing that your mother was one of those who actually took a stand for the right. That’s a great legacy to pass along to you, and probably influenced your love for history and your willingness to pass along a strong sense of justice to others. I’m blessed by your visit here.

  9. Mindy

    Oh Lisa, what a powerful moment you all shared in that library…Thankful for those who share their past (especially when so painful- just breaks my heart really) , touch our hearts and encourage us to make a difference. You are so right, we MUST move forward against injustice. Planting along side you today.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Isn’t is amazing at the stories that people hold? I’m thankful, too, that others are willing to share those valuable memories with the rest of us, even at the expense of reliving their own pain. We all have so much still to learn. Thanks for your comments, Mindy.

  10. Sarah Donegan

    We all need to hear these stories and understand them if we are going to be able to keep moving forward. I don’t want to hear about the pain, but I can’t pretend it didn’t (or doesn’t) happen. Thank you for sharing this Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know; sometimes I’d like to hide from that pain too. It’s tough to hear how cruel we humans can be to each other. But I know we need to hear so we can be moved and do something about it. Thanks for sharing here, Sarah.

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