The University of Alabama honored a legend in Civil Rights history on Friday, as it unveiled the Autherine Lucy Foster Historic Marker. The ceremony held on the lawn of Graves Hall highlighted several keynote speakers, including UA President Stuart R. Bell and distinguished alumna Marian Accinno Loftin. Bell stressed the impact of Foster’s legacy on the university and the entire state of Alabama. “Mrs. Foster’s initiative and courage opened the doors and created the opportunity for all races to attend the University. This historic marker will serve as a testament to her enduring impact on our campus and beyond.” The idea for the tag came from several faculty members who petitioned the university to place the historical marker near the site where Foster was turned away by an angry mob in 1956. When told about the honor, Foster said, “I never imagined my decision to enroll would affect so many in so many ways.
Rejected because of her race
Today, I have several children who have attended the University and am, myself, a proud graduate and member of the alumni association. I am very humbled that the University has chosen to recognize me in this way.” Foster’s resilient story began in 1952 when she received an English degree from Miles College. Foster then attempted to enroll in the University of Alabama but was rejected because of her race. After a drawn-out legal battle, she was admitted by court order. On Friday, February 3, 1956, Foster became the first African-American in Alabama to attend a white public school or university. That day, she attended her first class as a graduate student in library science, but on Monday, as 3,000 people came to the school to protest, the board of trustees expelled Foster, citing concerns for her and other students’ safety.
Loftin remembered being in one of Foster’s literature classes on that fateful day. “On Friday, February 3, Catherine’s first day in class, she crossed the Quad alone without notable incident. But on Monday a crowd gathered, and the disturbance accelerated. Chants became angry shouts. Our class was dismissed, and Autherine was ushered out of the building to safety.” The university did not officially annul Foster’s expulsion until 1988. She then re-enrolled at the University with her daughter, Grazia, and earned a master’s of education in 1991. The marker is now placed on a campus of increasing diversity. The University of Alabama’s multicultural campus includes more than 4,000 African-American students.