After a week of backlash, the University of Alabama System’s Board of Trustees voted Friday to name a building after the school’s first Black student instead of having her share the name with a Ku Klux Klan leader.
The trustees reversed a February 3 decision to name the building Lucy-Graves Hall after its first Black student and civil rights activist Autherine Lucy Foster and Bibb Graves, a former Alabama governor and a Ku Klux Klan leader.
Students, faculty and community members cried out, saying it was wrong to recognize the legacy of these two people in one building.
“This has been a challenging time. The work group in making its recommendations certainly intended for that paired name to generate educational moments that can help us learn from our complex and rich history,” trustee emeritus Judge John England Jr. said at the special called Friday meeting.
“Somehow, the honoring of Autherine Lucy Foster sort of took the background and that’s not what we wanted,” England said. “We’ve heard enough from people whose opinion matter to us – students, faculty, staff – that we can do that in a better way than what we’ve done.”
The working group for the board consulted with more than a dozen Alabama history scholars before suggesting the name of Lucy-Graves Hall, the university system said in a news release. However, students and others on campus were not consulted.
The board’s priority was to honor Foster, the release said. “Unfortunately, the complex legacy of Governor Graves has distracted from that important priority,” it read.
Foster, whose last name was then Lucy, became the first Black student to enroll at the university in 1956. On her third day on campus, on February 6, 1956, a violent mob surrounded Graves Hall, according to the board resolution.
She took shelter in the School of Education Library after university officials helped her escape. The board of trustees then suspended and expelled her.
Decades later, Foster enrolled at the university’s College of Education in 1989 and earned her master’s degree in education in 1991.
The civil rights activist and education leader had an endowed scholarship named after her by the university, which is given to a Black undergraduate student yearly. A clock tower was dedicated to her in 2010. In 2019, Foster received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alabama.
A sign outside the building has been updated to say Autherine Lucy Hall, according to Lynn Cole, the director of system communications.
The name change on the limestone building should be done in a couple weeks, she added.