Autherine Lucy Foster speaking during the ceremony

Autherine Lucy Foster: The Life of a Legend

Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster’s legacy of determination, strength and love endures.

Early Life

Autherine Juanita Lucy was born in Shiloh, Alabama, Oct. 5, 1929, becoming the youngest of 10 children born to Minnie Maud Hosea and Milton Cornelius Lucy. During childhood, she helped maintain her family’s 110-acre farm, in addition to being a star student. She attended public school in Shiloh through the 10th grade and graduated from Linden Academy in 1947. She went on to attend Selma University, followed by Miles College, from which she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1952.

Establishing a Legacy

black and white photo of Dr. Foster from 1956.
Dr. Foster on campus in 1956.

Completing her undergraduate degree led her to The University of Alabama, where she planned, as she said later, to get the best possible education in the state. She and a friend, Polly Anne Meyers, applied to study at the Capstone and were accepted, but their acceptance was later rescinded after it became known that they were not white.

With the backing of the NAACP and representation by attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Arthur Shores, the pair sought admission to The University of Alabama. Almost three years later, during which time the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case was decided, they gained a favorable ruling in their case and made plans to enroll the following year.

On Feb. 3, 1956, Autherine Lucy began classes in the library science program, becoming the first Black person to attend classes at the University. Just three days later, she was whisked to safety following threats against her life from a growing, angry mob. The University suspended Autherine Lucy, citing fears for her safety. Several weeks later, the Board expelled her, citing slander after one of her attorneys claimed that University officials had conspired with rioters to create the dangerous situation.

Overcoming Obstacles

Even with this setback, she led a full life and never stopped fighting for justice. Throughout the years following her expulsion, she was a determined participant in the civil rights movement, giving speeches around the country. She went on to teach elementary through high school in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

She married Hugh Foster in April 1956, becoming Autherine Lucy Foster. The Fosters went on to have four children: Hugh Jr., Angela, Grazia and Crystal.

Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster ad her daughter
In 1989, Dr. Foster enrolled again at UA, joining her daughter, Grazia.

In 1988, The University of Alabama officially annulled her expulsion, which allowed her to re-enroll, this time with her daughter Grazia, who was an undergraduate student. In December 1991, she completed her master’s degree in elementary education. The following May, she and Grazia participated in the commencement ceremonies. Twenty-eight years after her graduation, in May 2019, UA awarded her an honorary doctorate.

Later, in February 2022, the building that houses the College of Education, the building in which she took refuge during the riots of 1956, was renamed Autherine Lucy Hall in recognition of her role in desegregating The University of Alabama, as well as her teaching career. During this ceremony she was named a master teacher by the state of Alabama, which is a title that will only be given to her.

“If I am a master teacher, do you know what I hope I’m teaching you? That love will take care of everything in our world,” she said in her address during the dedication.

Less than a week later, Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster died at the age of 92. She will be remembered now and forever for all she triumphed over and taught, both in and out of the classroom.

WATCH: The Story of Autherine Lucy Foster

From the Archives

Autherine Lucy Foster to Receive Honorary UA Doctorate Friday

Autherine Lucy Foster to Visit, Lecture at UA

UA to Dedicate Autherine Lucy Hall Feb. 25

UA Alumni Group to Honor First African-American Student

UA to Honor 40 Pioneers at ‘Opening Doors’ Event