BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Autherine Lucy Foster, the first Black Student to enroll at the University of Alabama, has died. She was 92 years old.
Foster, who spent nearly 40 years living in Lipscomb, died earlier this week, the university confirmed Wednesday. One of her final public appearances was at UA on Feb. 25 for a ceremony unveiling the renaming of Bibb Graves Hall to Autherine Lucy Hall.
“The UA community is deeply saddened by the passing of our friend, Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster,” UA President Stuart Bell said in a statement. “While we mourn the loss of a legend who embodied love, integrity and a spirit of determination, we are comforted by knowing her legacy will continue at The University of Alabama and beyond.”
Foster, a native of Shiloh, Alabama who had gotten her bachelor’s degree at Miles College, enrolled at UA on February 3, 1956. Days before, crosses were burned on campus and many in the community protested her coming. Originally, she and a fellow Mile College graduate, Pollie Anne Myers, were going to go to school together. However, the school turned down Myers’ application, saying she had broken the school’s student conduct policy by having a child out of wedlock.
“She was younger than I, but I expected her to do all of the leading and make decisions together,” Foster said in one of her final interviews with CBS 42 at her home last month. “Then, when she couldn’t go, I said, ‘Well, I guess I could,’ so I just tried to take responsibility to do that.”
While on campus, Foster had to be chaperoned to and from class and was not allowed in the student dormitories. After three days, Foster was forced to leave the university due to the growing number of protesters on campus each day. At one point, a crowd surrounded Smith Hall, where she was taking a class. After quickly leaving the state, the university suspended Foster, citing concern for her safety at the time. Eventually, the university outright expelled her.
Foster ultimately paved the way for James Hood and Vivian Malone Jones to enroll at UA in 1963. While Hood left after two months, Jones received her bachelor’s degree in business management from the university in 1965, becoming UA’s first Black graduate.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Foster said of her time at UA. “It is forever in my mind.”
After leaving UA, Foster married Rev. Hugh Lawrence Foster and moved to Texas. Wanting to be a teacher, Foster had tried to find work in a school, but publicity from her time at UA, as well as not having the right degree, made it difficult.
“If I had that certificate, I could’ve started teaching earlier,” she said.
After spending time there and Louisiana, the Fosters returned to Alabama in 1974. By 1988, UA had done away with Foster’s expulsion, allowing her to re-enroll at the university. In 1992, she received her master’s degree in education. She shared the graduation stage with her daughter.
Over the years, Foster has received honorary doctorate degrees from both UA and Miles College, a marker on campus at Alabama, and the renaming of Bibb Graves Hall to Autherine Lucy Hall.
“It makes me feel like I may have some place in history,” Foster said about what she was able to do at UA. “It may take some time to get to its justice, but I do feel better about it that they are trying to make it right.”
While Foster said she appreciated all the accolades she had received from UA, she often felt like she did not deserve them.
“I know it’s an honor, but I don’t feel that I’m so blessed to get that honor,” she said. “I mean, I’m blessed, but I never expected to get that.”
Bell said Foster’s legacy in Alabama history was set.
“Dr. Foster will always be remembered as one who broke barriers, reminded us of the respect due to every individual and lived a life of strength in steadfast service to her students and community,” he said.
Foster said that more than awards or accolades, she is more proud of the fact that her contribution led to so many Black students being able to go the university over the years.
“To tell you the truth, as far as that concerns, it matters not,” she said. “I’m 92 years old. I don’t have long to be here. But it’s one thing I do feel, the way those children light up and they’re happy that they can go to that school, it gives me the greatest respect.”