Autherine Lucy became the first Black student to desegregate the University of Alabama on this day in 1956 despite violent threats from rioting white mobs. Lucy, who was ultimately expelled from the school on a weak technicality, re-entered the school in the ’80’s and completed her master’s degree.
Autherine Juanita Lucy was born October 5, 1929 in Shiloh, Ala. She graduated from Miles College in 1952 with a degree in English. She wanted to complete her graduate work at UAB. That year, she and a friend, NAACP activist Pollie Myers Hudson, enrolled at the school and were admitted, but later denied after it was discovered they were Black.
This prompted a lengthy intervention from the NAACP, which represented the legal affairs of the women. In 1955, the civil rights organization won a court order preventing Alabama from barring Black students, but Hudson was denied anyway because she had a child out-of-wedlock and was deemed an unfit student. In interviews, Lucy claimed to never want to be an activist and instead just thought graduating from the school would allow her better opportunities.
The following year, she entered Alabama despite violent protest from mobs of angry whites. The riots were nationally televised and Lucy’s life was under constant danger. She was eventually expelled for her ‘protection’ and the university used her work alongside the NAACP to justify the expulsion because she technically ‘slandered’ the school.
Lucy briefly became involved in civil rights but retreated to a private life as an educator along with husband Hugh Foster. In 1988, Alabama lifted the expulsion and Lucy eventually obtained her master’s degree in elementary education in 1992. Her daughter earned her degree on the same day in corporate finance.
The school named a fellowship in her honor and in 2010, the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower was dedicated to her in a space that also honored pioneering students Vivian Malone and James Hood.
PHOTO: Voices of The Civil Rights Movement, screenshot
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