Autherine Lucy Foster’s daughter, Angela Foster Dickerson, confirmed the news and said a family statement would be released. UA recently renamed a building in Foster’s honor, calling the College of Education building, Autherine Lucy Hall
Dickerson said while her mother was happy no matter the building name, she was thankful they voted to just honor her mother.
While Foster is celebrated now by the university, that wasn’t always the case. Back in 1956, mobs and threats of violence forced her to leave. But, her expulsion was reversed in 1988 and she went back and got her Master’s Degree.
“I’m still amazed even at this point in time what she endured during that time,” Dickerson said.
Although she was chased from campus after only three days of classes, Ms. Foster’s 1956 enrollment at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa was a symbolic milestone in the civil rights movement, occurring at what was then an all-White citadel of the segregated South.
The Supreme Court had ruled against “separate but equal” public school facilities two years earlier in Brown v. Board of Education, and Ms. Foster — an Alabamian — had been waiting for four years to take graduate education courses at what she considered the best school in the state.
Autherine Lucy had no particular desire to be a civil rights pioneer. Growing up as the youngest of 10 children in an Alabama farm family, she simply wanted to get the best education her state could offer.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from the historically Black Miles College in Fairfield, Ala., in 1952. But then, though she was a reserved, even shy person, she took a daring step: She applied for entrance to her state’s flagship educational institution, the University of Alabama. And she was accepted — at least until university officials discovered that she was Black and promptly told her that a mistake had been made and she would not be welcome.
So began a legal fight that culminated in 1956 — nearly two years after the Supreme Court found segregation in public schools and colleges unconstitutional in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision — when Ms. Lucy became the first Black student at Alabama.
Statement from The University of Alabama:
“The UA community is deeply saddened by the passing of our friend, Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster,” said UA President Stuart R. Bell. “While we mourn the loss of a legend who embodied love, integrity and a spirit of determination, we are comforted by knowing her legacy will continue at The University of Alabama and beyond. We were privileged to dedicate Autherine Lucy Hall in her honor just last week and to hear her words of encouragement for our students. Dr. Foster will always be remembered as one who broke barriers, reminded us of the respect due to every individual and lived a life of strength in steadfast service to her students and community.”
Statement from The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute:
It is with deep sadness that The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute marks the passing of Autherine Juanita Lucy, an American activist and one of the first African American students to attend the University of Alabama, in 1956. Lucy was known and described as “the architect of desegregating Alabama’s education systems.”
On her passing, DeJuana Thompson, BCRI president and CEO said that “Mrs. Lucy was a fearless pioneer known not only for courage, but her perseverance; she enriched the lives of so many educators and students. Her legacy continues to inspire advocates of social justice.”