The University of Alabama System’s Board of Trustees voted Friday to name a building after the school’s first Black student instead of having her share the name with a former governor and Ku Klux Klan leader.

Students, faculty, and community members decried the original decision, which was reversed on Feb. 3, saying it was wrong to recognize the legacy of these two people in one building. “This has been a challenging time,” trustee emeritus Judge John England Jr. said at last Friday’s meeting. “The workgroup in making its recommendations certainly intended for that paired name to generate educational moments that can help us learn from our complex and rich history.”

“Somehow, the honoring of Autherine Lucy Foster sort of took the background and that’s not what we wanted,” England said. “We’ve heard enough from people whose opinion matter to us — students, faculty, staff — that we can do that in a better way than what we’ve done.”

With more than a dozen Alabama history scholars suggesting the name of Lucy-Graves Hall, the university system commented that students and others on campus were not consulted. 

The board’s priority was to honor Foster, the release said. “Unfortunately, the complex legacy of Governor Graves has distracted from that important priority,” it read.

Foster, whose last name was then Lucy, became the first Black student to enroll at the university in 1956. On her third day on campus, on February 6, 1956, a violent mob surrounded Graves Hall, according to the board resolution.

After taking shelter in the School of Education Library, university officials helped her escape, while the board of trustees then suspended and expelled her. Decades later, Foster enrolled at the university’s College of Education in 1989 and earned her Master’s degree in education in 1991.

The civil rights activist and education leader had an endowed scholarship named after her by the university, which is given to a Black undergraduate student yearly. A clock tower was dedicated to her in 2010. In 2019, Foster received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alabama. 

A sign outside the building has been updated to say Autherine Lucy Hall, according to Lynn Cole, the director of system communications.

The name change on the limestone building should be done in a couple weeks, she added.

TOPICS: