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*On this date in 1929, Autherine Lucy was born. She is a Black activist and educator.
Autherine Juanita Lucy was born in Shiloh, Alabama. Her father Milton Cornelius Lucy and mother Minnie Maud Hosea were a sharecropper; she was the youngest child in a family of five sons and four daughters. The family owned and farmed 110 acres, and Lucy's father also did blacksmith and made baskets and ax handles to supplement their income. After attending public school in Shiloh through grade ten, she attended Linden Academy in Linden, Alabama.
She graduated in 1947, and went on to attend Selma University for two years, after which she studied at Miles College in Fairfield. She graduated from Miles with a B.A. in English in 1952. In September 1952, she and a friend, Pollie Myers, a civil rights activist with the NAACP, applied to the University of Alabama. Lucy later said that she wanted a second undergraduate degree, not for political reasons but to get the best possible education in the state. Although the women were accepted, their admittance was rescinded when the authorities discovered they were not white. Backed by the NAACP, they both charged the University with racial discrimination in a court case that took almost three years to resolve. While waiting, Lucy worked as an English teacher in Carthage, Mississippi, and as a secretary at an insurance company.
On June 29, 1955, the NAACP secured a court order preventing the University from rejecting the admission applications of Lucy and Myers (who had married and was then known as Pollie Myers Hudson) based upon their race. Lucy was finally admitted to the University but it rejected Hudson on the grounds that a child she had conceived before marriage made her an unsuitable student. Even though Lucy was officially admitted, she was still barred from all dormitories and dining halls. Days later, the court amended the order to apply to all other Black students seeking admission.
At least two sources have said that the board hoped that without Hudson, the more outgoing and assured of the pair and whose idea it originally was to enroll at Alabama, Lucy's own acceptance would mean little or nothing to her, and she would voluntarily decide not to attend. But Hudson and others strongly encouraged her, and on February 3, 1956, Lucy enrolled as a graduate student in library science, becoming the first Black ever admitted to a white public school or university in the state; she attended her first class that same day. On Monday, February 6, 1956, riots broke out on the campus and more than a thousand men pelted the car the Dean of Women drove Lucy between classes. Threats were made against her life and the University president's home was stoned. The police were called to secure her attendance. These riots at the University were the most violent, post-Brown, anti-integration demonstration of the 20th century.
After the riots, the University suspended her from school because her own safety was a concern. Lucy was known and described as "the architect of desegregating Alabama's education systems." Thurgood Marshall helped win the 1954 landmark Supreme Court desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. The Brown decision said that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional (illegal). Marshall had a great amount of confidence that if Supreme Court decided something, then the rest of the country will follow its decision. Attorneys for Lucy and the NAACP, including Arthur Shores and Marshall helped build a lawsuit against the university because they believed the school helped the white mob by not having protection for her and prevented Lucy from attending class.
With this support, her lawyers, engaged in a series of legal proceedings lasting from 1953 until 1955. In a letter to Lucy Marshall, said: "Whatever happens in the future, remember for all concerned, that your contribution has been made toward equal justice for all Americans and that you have done everything in your power to bring this about." Lucy and the NAACP filed contempt-of-court charges against the trustees and president of the University; against the dean of women for barring her from the dining hall and dormitories, and against four other men (none connected to the University) for participating in the riots.
On February 29, the Federal Court in Birmingham ordered that Lucy be reinstated and that the University must take adequate measures to protect her. The University trustees then expelled her permanently on a hastily contrived technicality. The University used the court case as a justification for her permanent expulsion, claiming that Lucy had slandered the University and they could not have her as a student. The NAACP, feeling that further legal action was pointless, did not contest this decision. Lucy acquiesced. President Oliver Carmichael resigned as a result of the trustees' opposition to Lucy's admission. After Lucy was expelled from the university, Marshall was so concerned about her safety that he brought her to New York to stay in his home with him and his wife, Cecilia. Lucy said later, "I just felt so secure with Mr. Marshall and his wife... How grateful I have been over all these years for the protection and the kindness he gave to me."
In April 1956, in Dallas, Lucy married Hugh Foster, a divinity student (and later a minister) whom she had met at Miles College. For some months afterward she was a civil rights advocate, making speeches at NAACP meetings around the country. But by the end of the year, her active involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement had ceased. For the next seventeen years, Lucy and her family lived in various cities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Her notoriety made it difficult at first for her to find employment as a teacher. The Fosters moved back to Alabama in 1974, and Lucy obtained a position in the Birmingham school system.
In April 1988, Lucy's expulsion was officially annulled by the University of Alabama. She enrolled in the graduate program in Education the following year and received an M.A. degree in May 1992. In the course of the commencement ceremonies, in a complete reversal of spirit from when she was first admitted there, the university named an endowed scholarship in her honor and unveiled a portrait of her in the student union. The inscription reads "Her initiative and courage won the right for students of all races to attend the University
On November 3, 2010, the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower was dedicated in a new space honoring her, Vivian Malone, and James Hood (the Malone-Hood Plaza)—three individuals who pioneered desegregation at the University of Alabama. The Plaza is located beside Foster Auditorium, where, in 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace unsuccessfully attempted to bar Malone and Hood from registering at the University. The 40-foot-tall brick tower has a base displaying bronze plaque that chronicle the individual struggles of Lucy, Malone, and Hood. Additionally, on September 15, 2017, a special marker was erected in her honor near Graves Hall (home of the College of Education) on the UA campus.
Lucy returned to speak at the ceremony and compared the crowd that welcomed her with the hatred she had encountered the first time she entered the university. In May 2019, Lucy attended the University of Alabama's spring graduation, where the school presented her with an honorary doctorate. She is a sister of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.