Autherine Lucy Foster first applied to attend the University of Alabama in 1952. While she was accepted, her offer was rescinded once officials realized she was Black. This prompted a lengthy court battle, which ultimately allowed Foster to finally attend in 1956.  

Though she legally earned her right to attend the university, her presence on campus was met with massive hostility. In what the school claimed was an effort to keep the peace, Foster was expelled just three days after her enrollment because of riots and death threats.

Over six decades later, Foster returned to the school that once shunned her to receive an honorary doctorate during the 2019 graduation ceremony last week.

“A legendary moment,” the school tweeted on Friday. “Thank you to civil rights pioneer + #UA legend Autherine Lucy Foster for her tenacious spirit in the face of adversity.”

“I wasn’t crying, but tears was just rolling down my eyes because it’s just so different and so unique for me to be able to come back to such a university as this,” Foster told WBRC. “As we rode across campus today, I said gee whiz this is a blessing in disguise to see the university permitting me to come back here and be involved in whatever they want to do today.

“I feel elated. Somewhat embarrassed because I don’t feel exactly worthy of what I’m getting. But I’m going to thank them and act as if I can," she said.

Foster earned a master’s degree in education from the university in 1991.