Autherine Lucy Foster has died just days after attending a renaming ceremony in her honor for the College of Education at the University of Alabama. Foster was expelled 70 years ago, when her barrier breaking attendance at the institution was met by a racist mob. ( Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. for AP)

By AFRO Staff

Just days after being honored at the same college that expelled her to calm racial tension, Autherine Lucy Foster,  has died. Foster lived to see the University of Alabama’s College of Education renamed in her honor, but passed shortly after at the age of 92.

Foster was 26 years old when the University of Alabama allowed her to become the first Black to study at their institution. Her dreams of a higher education were quickly dashed when a mob rushed the campus and the president at the time, Oliver Cromwell Carmichael, quickly rescinded his offer of admission. 

She had only been on the campus of the University of Alabama for 72 hours after her expulsion due to threats and complaints from White individuals. Black students wouldn’t attend the institution again until 1963 after schools and universities were desegregated.

Foster would go on to attend and earn a Master’s Degree in Education, which she used to teach elementary school, impacting hundreds of lives.

In an attempt to reconcile with Foster after their misdeed of acquiescing to violent, racist hate, current president Stuart R. Bell agreed to put Foster’s name on a school building. There was just one catch: her name would be added to a building already honoring another Alabamian that university officials held in high esteem- former Ku Klux Klan Grand Cyclops and two-term Governor Bibb Graves. 

Autherine Lucy Foster, center, the first Black person to attend University of Alabama, discussing her return to campus following mob demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala., on Feb. 7, 1956. She held a press conference accompanied by Ruby Hurley, right, Southeast regional secretary of the NAACP, and attorney Arthur Shores, left. (Gene Herrick/Associated Press)

An uproar ensued. 

Once again a University of Alabama president was engaged in a nasty conversation about race, but this time, the loudest voices in the room were coming to Foster’s defense. 

Students, faculty and concerned citizens couldn’t believe that in the year 2022, Foster- a Black woman- was being asked to accept the honor of having her name on a building alongside that of a former klansmen.

Ultimately, it was decided that Foster should have her name stand alone on the edifice- without the legacy of Graves attached to it.

In addition to changing the name of the College of Education, the university also bestowed Foster a master of arts degree. Photos from the graduation ceremony show Foster being wheeled down the aisle, with commencement stoles draped over her shoulders. The honor came just after Foster’s alma mater, Miles College, honored her with a doctorate of Humane Letters.

Foster attended the unveiling of her name on the University of Alabama building on Friday, Feb. 25, and quietly passed away five days later on March 2. 

She leaves behind her daughter Chrystal Foster.

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