University of Alabama Names Hall After First Black Student, Replacing Ku Klux Klan Leader’s Name

The university's education building ,formerly known as Bibb-Graves Hall, has been renamed to Autherine Lucy Hall. Image: University of Alabama.

After coming under fire over the past week, the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama voted on Friday to rename a building after the school’s first Black student, replacing the name of a Ku Klux Klan leader, CNN reports.

On February 3, trustees reversed a decision to name the building Lucy-Graves Hall after its first Black student and civil rights activist Autherine Lucy Foster and Bibb Graves, a Ku Klux Klan leader and former governor of Alabama.

A coalition of students, faculty, and community members protested the board’s decision, saying it was wrong to recognize the legacy of these two people in one building.

“This has been a challenging time,” Judge John England trustee emeritus said at a special 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,” he continued. “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.” 

When discussions began around choosing the right person to receive the honor, the board consulted over a dozen Alabama history scholars before deciding the name of the building would be Lucy-Graves Hall, the university system said in a news release. But when the workgroup was created, the students were not involved in the process.

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

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 then 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.

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 and she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alabama.

According to Lynn Cole, the director of system communications, a sign outside the building has been updated to say Autherine Lucy Hall,

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