Autherine Lucy Foster was born October 5, 1929, in Shiloh, Marengo County, Alabama. In 1952, Lucy became the first African American to enroll at the University of Alabama (UA). However, when school administrators discovered Lucy was African American, she was denied admittance. After a three-year court battle, in 1956 Lucy finally matriculated at UA. However, violent protest on campus led to Lucy’s expulsion by university officials after she attended classes for only two days.
After Lucy graduated from Linden Academy High School in Marengo County, Alabama, she enrolled at Selma University and received a two-year teaching certificate. However, she was unable to get a job because the state of Alabama had recently begun requiring four-year degrees for full-time teaching positions. In 1949, she entered Miles College in Birmingham and graduated with a B.A. in English in 1952.
Shortly after graduating from Miles College, Lucy was contacted by her friend, Pollie Anne Myers, whom she had met in a public speaking class, about enrolling in graduate school at UA with her. Lucy decided to enroll with Myers and they both requested and received admission forms in early September. Lucy applied for the Master of Education program. After paying the $5.00 dormitory deposit fee, on September 13, 1952, they both received letters welcoming them to the University of Alabama.
Anticipating the inevitable rejection of their enrollment, which occurred on September 19 when the Admissions Office discovered that they were African American, Lucy and Myers had retained a lawyer, Arthur Shores, who worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When the women went to the Admissions Office on September 20, the Dean of Admissions, William F. Adams, told them that they could not enroll, although he would not state that it was because of their race. He also attempted to return their $5.00 room deposit.
In 1954, when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation came down from the U.S. Supreme Court, the NAACP decided that the Myers/Lucy case would be the first test. On June 29, 1955, federal Judge Harlan Grooms ruled that UA had to admit the two women. Although the institution denied Myers’s admission on the grounds that she had been pregnant out of wedlock, Lucy decided to attend by herself and, on February 1, 1956, became the first African American student to enroll at UA. Unfortunately, due to mob violence on campus, the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees voted to expel Lucy from the university, allegedly for her own safety.
On April 22, 1956, Lucy married Hugh Lawrence Foster, a divinity student at Bishop College in Tyler, Texas, whom she had known from Miles College. They moved to Texas where they would have four children, two of whom eventually attended the University of Alabama. The couple returned to Alabama in 1974. In 1988, the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees voted to overturn its expulsion of Lucy, and she enrolled and received her master’s degree in education on May 9, 1992. The university has named an endowed scholarship after her and placed her portrait in the Ferguson Center on campus.