Home > Uncategorized > February 3 – Autherine Juanita Lucy

February 3 – Autherine Juanita Lucy

On May 17, 1954 the United States Supreme Court delivered its decision on Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, making the segregation of public schools unconstitutional, stating that “segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group.”

Two years later, the University of Alabama admitted its first black student, only to expel her 3 days later. Who was this student, and why was she expelled?

Autherine J Lucy was a native of Alabama who graduated from high school in 1947 and then received her BA in English at the all-black Miles College in 1952. She aspired to continue her education at the University of Alabama which, at the time, was legally-able and all-too-willing to reject admission based on race. Knowing this, she enlisted the help of NAACP attorneys (including Thurgood Marshall), who successfully secured a court order preventing the University from rejecting prospective students on racial grounds.

Bound by the new ruling, and against their own wishes, the University granted her admission, but forbid her from entering any of the dorms or dining halls, hoping that she would voluntarily decide not to come. In spite of this, Lucy enrolled herself on February 3, 1956, becoming the first African American to ever be admitted to a public school or university in the state of Alabama.

The legal team representing Autherine Lucyleave federal courthouse in
downtown Birmingham.From left, Lucy, NAACP lawyer Thurgood
Marshall,Birmingham lawyer Arthur Shores. Behind Shores is
NAACP lawyer Constance Baker Motley.

However, just 3 days later, an angry mob of students and local citizens gathered to block Lucy from attending class, and the University conveniently suspended her “for her own safety.” When Lucy and her attorneys tried to sue to have the suspension overturned, they were unsuccessful, and the University promptly expelled her on the grounds that she had libeled the University with “wholly false, defamatory” remarks.

More than 2 decades would pass before the University of Alabama eventually overturned her expulsion in 1980. Autherine decided to return once more, and in 1992 she finally graduated with a Master’s in Elementary Education. That same day, her daughter, Grazia Foster, graduated from the same institution with a Bachelor’s in Corporate Finance… a poetic ending to one woman’s lifelong struggle, but also a striking example of how much Civil Rights had changed in just one generation.

thanks for reading,

francis

Autherine Lucy Foster (right) and her daughter,
Grazia, at their graduation from UA in 1992

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. charmane Smalley
    August 31, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Wow! that was a great ending to your story. Thank yyou for being you!

  1. February 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm

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