Autherine Lucy Foster
Autherine Juanita Lucy was the first black student to attend the University of Alabama, in 1956. She was born on October 5, 1929 in Shiloh, Alabama and graduated from Linden Academy in 1947. She went on to attend Selma University in Selma, and the all-black Miles College in Fairfield – where she graduated with a BA in English in 1952.
Later in 1952, at the encouragement of and along with a Miles classmate, Pollie Ann Myers, she decided to attend the University of Alabama as a graduate student but, knowing that admission would be difficult due to the University’s admission policies, she and Myers approached the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for help. Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and Arthur Shores were assigned to be their attorneys. While they started preparing her case, she worked as a secretary. Court action began in July 1953.Â
On June 29, 1955, the NAACP secured a court order preventing the University from rejecting the admission applications of Lucy and her friend based upon their race. Days later, the court amended the order to apply to all other African-American students seeking admission. The Supreme Court upheld this in Lucy v. Adams on October 10, 1955. On the very eve of the day Lucy and her friend (who had married to become Pollie Myers Hudson) were to register, the University Board of Trustees rejected Hudson on the grounds of her “conduct and marital record”, but reluctantly allowed Lucy to register. However, she was barred from all dormitories and dining halls.
At least two sources have said that the board hoped that without Hudson, the more outgoing and assured of the pair and whose idea it originally was to enroll at Alabama, Lucy’s own acceptance would mean little or nothing to her, and she would voluntarily choose not to attend. But Hudson and others strongly encouraged her, and on February 3, 1956, Lucy enrolled as a graduate student in library science, becoming the first African American ever admitted to a white public school or university in the state.
On the third day of classes, a hostile mob assembled to prevent Lucy attending classes. The police were called to secure her admission but, that evening, the University suspended Lucy on the grounds that it could not provide a safe environment. Lucy and her attorneys filed suit against the University to have the suspension overturned. However, this suit was not successful and was used as a justification for her permanent expulsion. University officials claimed that Lucy had slandered the university and they could not have her as a student.
The University of Alabama finally overturned her expulsion in 1980, and in 1992, she earned her Masters degree in Elementary Education from the University that she had applied to decades earlier. In a complete reversal of spirit from when she was first admitted there, the university named an endowed scholarship in her honour and unveiled a portrait of her in the student union overlooking the most trafficked spot on campus. The inscription reads “Her initiative and courage won the right for students of all races to attend the University.”
She is a sister of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.
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