Remembering Autherine Lucy

On this day 56 years ago, the University of Alabama’s first black student, Autherine Lucy, attended her first classes.

Lucy, a 1952 graduate of the all-African American Miles College, went to court in July 1953, determined to gain entrance to the University of Alabama’s graduate program in library science. After nearly two years of legal proceedings, the court ordered the University to admit her.

Coming nearly two years after the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision, Lucy’s admission to the University incited threats from students and community members. On February 6, only three days after she began her classes, mobs threw rocks and eggs at Lucy. For obvious reasons, she needed police to escort her to her classrooms—from which she could still hear the loud threats and jeers from the mobs.

After the mob violence, the University suspended Lucy, citing concerns over her safety. Although the NAACP took the matter to court, lawyers were unsuccessful, and Lucy was ultimately expelled from the school.

Although her time at the University of Alabama was short-lived, Lucy’s admission paved the way for sustained desegregation in 1963, when both Vivian Malone and James Hood were successfully enrolled. Lucy (now Autherine Lucy Foster) returned to the University 32 years later, and, in 1992, she received her master’s degree in elementary education—on the same day that her daughter received her degree in corporate finance.