Autherine Lucy Foster, the first Black student to enroll at the University of Alabama, cut the ribbon on a building recently renamed in her honor Friday afternoon during a ceremony that righted wrongs both old and new, even if only in small ways.

Lucy, a native of Shiloh, Alabama, applied to attend the University in 1952 and was accepted, but saw her admission rescinded because of her race, which began a three-year legal battle between the University and the NAACP.

In February 1956, after a court order was issued preventing UA from blocking her admission, Lucy stepped onto campus as the Capstone's first-ever Black student. Days later, though, racist protestors gathered on campus, forcing Lucy to shelter for hours in the building that now bears her name.

Tuscaloosa Thread logo
Get our free mobile app

The University of Alabama Board of Trustees ultimately suspended then expelled Lucy in an effort to keep the peace on campus.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then -- the University annulled Lucy's expulsion in 1988, and she earned a master of arts in elementary education in 1991. She has been awarded an honorary doctorate, and the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower in campus' Malone-Hood Plaza bears her name.

Recently, though, the University has been grappling anew with its past, especially as it concerns the people honored in the names of its buildings and structures.

The College of Education, which now bears Lucy's name, has for decades been Bibb Graves Hall. The building was named to honor Alabama Governor David Bibb Graves, whose contributions to education and for the advancement of Black people in the state are overshadowed by his membership and leadership in the Ku Klux Klan at the turn of the 20th century.

The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees drew worldwide criticism this year by voting to rename the building Lucy-Graves Hall in an effort to recognize both individuals and the Capstone's complex history. A week later, they acknowledged their misstep and voted to drop Graves' name from the building entirely and honor Lucy exclusively.

The weight of the moment was evident at the Friday ceremony, which was kept short by chilly weather and persistent problems with the speakers' microphone.

"It is our hope that through your leadership and through your example, the seeds that you have planted along your journey -- and it's been a long journey -- will continue to grow and flourish for all of our students today but also for those future students who will be coming through our halls," UA President Stuart Bell told Lucy. "We know their lives will be changed forever through the influence of this brave woman that sits before you today."

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

Lucy was introduced by Quin Kelly, president of UA's Graduate Student Association and a founding member of the Building Bridges Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

Kelly gave a short but passionate speech that recognized a small few of the countless Black leaders locally and nationwide whose stories were made possible by the trail Lucy blazed decades ago.

He closed his speech by twisting the infamous words shouted by Alabama Governor George Wallace during his "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" to prevent Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling at UA seven years after Lucy's expulsion.

"How fitting is it that the building that houses our school of education, the building that once held you during the darkest hour of our University, will face the rising sun bearing your name as a monument to freedom and education now, education tomorrow and education forever," Kelly said.

Peter S. Hlebowitsh, the dean of the College of Education, presented Lucy with a declaration from Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey naming her the only Master Teacher in state history -- Hlebowitsh said no one has ever received the honor before, and no one ever will again.

Lucy, for her part, kept her comments short and sweet. She thanked the crowd for getting her out in public -- she said she hasn't been out much since the death of her husband three years ago and welcomed the opportunity.

If she bears the University any resentment for her treatment in 1956, she certainly didn't show it Friday afternoon.

"Friends and fans of the University of Alabama, I love you so much," Lucy said. "If I am a Master Teacher, you know what I hope I'm teaching you? That love will take care of everything in our world, don't you think?"

Lucy and her friends and family then cut a ceremonial ribbon in front of the building, and the educators of tomorrow who study at the University will now do so inside Autherine Lucy Hall.

Top Stories From the Tuscaloosa Thread (2/14-2/20)

13 of the Top Stories Published by the Tuscaloosa Thread from the week of February 14th, 2022.

More From Tuscaloosa Thread