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Remembering Autherine Lucy Foster, First Black Student Enrolled At University Of Alabama

Remembering Autherine Lucy Foster, First Black Student Enrolled At University Of Alabama

She’ll be immortalized in history forever!

Autherine Lucy Foster, the first Black student enrolled at the University of Alabama, has joined the ancestors, The New York Times reports. 

Autherine Juanita Lucy was born October 5, 1929 in Shiloh, Alabama, the youngest of 10 children living on a farm. Determined to get the best education Alabama could offer, Lucy went on to college, earning a two-year teaching certificate from Selma University before receiving her bachelor’s degree from Miles College, an Alabama HBCU, in 1952. Upon graduation, she and a friend, activist Pollie Anne Myers, took the risk of applying to the University of Alabama, Lucy surprisingly getting accepted. However, once the university discovered she was Black, they revoked her acceptance, sparking a legal fight that would last years. 

Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Alabama lawyer Arthur Shores took up a federal case on Lucy and Meyers' behalf and in 1955, Federal Judge Hobart Grooms ruled that Alabama could not discriminate against Lucy and Meyers. In October of that year, the Supreme Court upheld the decision. And on February 3, 1956, just two years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, declaring segregation in public schools and colleges unconstitutional, Lucy returned to Tuscaloosa where she made history as the first Black student to enroll at the University of Alabama. Unfortunately, Myers, who gave birth to a child before marrying, was not permitted to enroll at the university, officials citing their moral code. 

Sadly, Lucy’s time at the university lasted only 3 days, mobs of white students and local residents inciting protests and vandalism across campus. On day three, Lucy was hit with debris and had to be rushed off campus in the back of a police car. 

“It felt somewhat like you were not really a human being. But had it not been for some at the university, my life might not have been spared at all. I did expect to find isolation. I thought I could survive that. But I did not expect it to go as far as it did. There were students behind me saying, ‘Let’s kill her! Let’s kill her!’,” Lucy later recalled. 

That night, Alabama’s board of trustees suspended her from the school. The NAACP fought back on her behalf, alleging the university had conspired with rioters to prevent her acceptance. The suit was eventually dropped and the university expelled Lucy at the end of February, citing defamation. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon speaking out against the injustice Lucy had faced. 

Referencing a newspaper headline, Dr. King said, “Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today. There is peace on the campus of the University of Alabama. Yes, things are quiet in Tuscaloosa. It was a peace that had been purchased at the price of allowing mobocracy to reign supreme over democracy. It is the type of peace that is obnoxious.” 

Lucy went on to marry Hugh Lawrence Foster in April 1956, the two moving to Texas and starting their family. While Lucy Foster sought teaching work immediately, she was often denied, many citing her ordeal at the University of Alabama. In later years, she would go on to teach across schools in the South and in the spring of 1963, the University of Alabama admitted two Black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, under an order from Judge Grooms from the 1950 court proceedings.   

The University eventually dropped their ban on Lucy Foster in 1988, the civil rights pioneer taking advantage and enrolling as a graduate student soon after. In 1992, she received her master’s in education, her daughter Grazia Foster simultaneously receiving her bachelor’s degree in corporate finance. That day, the university unveiled a portrait of Lucy Foster in the student union, complete with a plaque that read “her initiative and courage won the right for students of all races to attend the university.”

In June 2003, during the 40th anniversary of the university’s successful integration, Vivian Malone Jones spoke about how Lucy Foster’s sacrifice inspired her, saying, “I was a child when that happened, but her efforts had an indelible impression on me. I figured if she could do it, I could do it.”

In November 2010, the university dedicated the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower and in 2019, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university. Three weeks ago, university officials announced they would be renaming the college of education in her honor. Initially the university sought to hyphenate the name, but students and faculty pushed back, noting that the former building was named for a Ku Klux Klan member. 

Student Barbara Whitesell spoke about the renaming, saying it was good that officials announced it in time for the 66th anniversary of Lucy Foster’s enrollment. 

“If you’re going to give her credit. You have to give it all to her. She endured a lot more than any student that has ever gone to UA probably has…It was very fine timing that they announced it when they did, too,” said Whitesell. 

Now that the 92-year-old civil rights trailblazer has joined the ancestors, the timing has an even more significant meaning. Thank you for fighting to the end, Ms. Foster. We hope you know your work was not in vain. Rest in power.  

Photo Courtesy The Crimson White/ Caroline Simmons