Just last week, Lucy Foster was in Tuscaloosa to cut the ribbon on the newly-named College of Education building, where she once sought shelter from a racist mob. The building, previously known as Bibb Graves Hall, was renamed Autherine Lucy Hall in her honor.
Lucy Foster, whose last name was Lucy as a student, enrolled at the university in 1956. On her third day on campus, on February 6, 1956, a violent mob threatened to harm her at Graves Hall, according to the board resolution.
She ran for safety in the School of Education Library where university officials helped her escape. After the incident, she was suspended and expelled by the board of trustees. After having her expulsion expunged in 1988, she returned to the College of Education, earning a master’s degree in education in 1991.
Her family confirmed the passing in an official statement.
“She was known, honored, and respected around the world after she broke the color barrier at the University of Alabama,” her daughter Chrystal Foster said in a statement. “She passed away at home, surrounded by family. We are deeply saddened, yet we realize she left a proud legacy.”
President Stuart R. Bell offered his condolences on behalf of the University of Alabama.
“The UA community is deeply saddened by the passing of our friend, Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster,” Bell said.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
The Alabama Democratic Party offered condolences to Lucy Foster’s family and friends Wednesday morning.
“Autherine Lucy Foster was the embodiment of courage,” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the organization. “As the first Black student to attend the University of Alabama, her trailblazing determination paved the way for a more inclusive and equitable higher education system in Alabama. Her life was a testament to the power of compassion and grace in the face of unyielding adversity. We are all made better by her example.”
Recognizing her contributions, the university placed a historic marker in front of the education building in 2017 to highlight her importance to UA’s history. In 2019, she was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the university.
Last month, the University of Alabama’s board of trustees voted to place Lucy Foster’s name beside Graves’ on the education building, but the effort was met with backlash from students, faculty, and community members. Eventually, the board relented and renamed the building Autherine Lucy Hall.
An endowed scholarship was established in her honor by the university and is given to a Black undergraduate student annually. Also, a clock tower was dedicated to her in 2010.
Samory Pruitt, the first Black vice president in UA’s history, said she continually inspired him with her “humble, caring, visionary and courageous spirit.”
“It was so fitting that her remarks during the dedication about being a master teacher [were about] teaching all of us to love one another, because that is what she always wanted,” he said.
We extend our prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Autherine Lucy Foster.