TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama will honor its first civil rights trailblazer Friday, bestowing an honorary doctoral degree upon Autherine Lucy Foster, the first African American to enroll and attend the University.
Lucy Foster will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa at the beginning of Friday’s 4:30 p.m. commencement exercise, the first of five ceremonies slated for this weekend.
She was the architect of desegregating Alabama’s education systems, as she became the first African American to attend a white school or university in the state of Alabama.
Lucy Foster, 89, initially applied to UA in 1952 after earning a degree in English from Miles College that same year. However, her acceptance was rescinded because she was not white. A federal court order later reversed that decision, and Foster enrolled at UA in 1956. The blueprint for contemporary diversity and inclusion was laid out when Foster attended classes for just three days in 1956 and was later removed from campus due to riots and threats against her life.
Her valiant role in desegregating the University is also recognized with a pair of endowed scholarships and two landmarks on campus – a historic marker in front of Graves Hall and the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower. She is listed as a UA Legend, was inducted into the UA Student Life Hall of Fame and has numerous campus awards and honors named for her.
“I love The University of Alabama, and it is an honor to be recognized in this way,” said Lucy Foster upon learning of the honorary doctoral degree. “I am thankful for opportunities such as this, which allow us to talk about the past while looking to the future,” said Lucy Foster, who believes that while talking about the past may be painful, it is necessary so that none of us forget.
She earned a master’s degree in education from UA in 1991, more than 35 years after attending her first class.
A native of Shiloh, her dismissal from 1956 was officially annulled in 1988, paving the way for her return to campus. She would re-enroll at UA with her daughter, Grazia, and the two would graduate together, with Lucy Foster earning a master’s degree in elementary education.
“It’s truly a privilege to award Mrs. Foster with an honorary degree from The University of Alabama,” said UA President Stuart R. Bell. “Her tenacious spirit, gracious heart for helping others and unfailing belief in the value of education and human rights positions Mrs. Foster as a meaningful example of what one can achieve in the face of adversity.”
Video from the ceremony will be livestreamed through a link available on the UA Commencement website at https://www.ua.edu/commencement/spring-2019.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.