The University of Alabama on Friday honored the” civil rights trailblazer” who was the first African-American student to enroll and attend the institution, bestowing upon her an honorary doctorate degree.
“I love The University of Alabama, and it is an honor to be recognized in this way,” Autherine Lucy Foster said in a statement. “I am thankful for opportunities such as this, which allow us to talk about [the] past while looking to the future.”
The 89-year-old first enrolled in the university in 1956, according to a news release. She initially applied to UA in 1952 shortly after earning an English degree from another college that same year. He acceptance was rescinded, however, due to her race.
It took a federal court order to reverse the decision, allowing Foster to attend the Tuscaloosa campus in 1956. Foster had taken up classes at the university for just three days before she was expelled after news of her acceptance sparked racist protests and even death threats against her.
Foster would eventually graduate from the university in 1991, earning a master’s degree in education. The accomplishment came more than 35 years after she attended her first class there.
Now, the university is honoring Foster as “the architect of desegregating Alabama’s education systems,” as she was the first Black American to attend a white school or university in the state of Alabama.
“It’s truly a privilege to award Mrs. Foster with an honorary degree from The University of Alabama,” the university’s president, Stuart R. Bell, said in a statement.
“Her tenacious spirit, gracious heart for helping others and unfailing belief in the value of education and human rights positions Mrs. Foster as a meaningful example of what one can achieve in the face of adversity,” he continued.
According to a press release, Foster’s role in helping desegregate the all-white university has been recognized with a pair of endowed scholarships, two landmarks on campus and a host of awards named in her honor. She’s also named as a UA Legend and was inducted into the UA Student Life Hall of Fame.