On this day in 1956
FEBRUARY 3, 1956
Overcoming racism and threats, Autherine Lucy became the first Black student to attend graduate school at the University of Alabama. She had previously been accepted to the university, only to be rejected when university officials discovered she wasn’t white.
The NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall represented her on the appeal, and she worked in the meantime as an English teacher in Carthage, Mississippi. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor, and she entered the university as a graduate student in library science.
Despite riots and violence, she continued to attend. Three days later, the university suspended her “for her own safety,” prompting the president there to resign in protest.
Feeling dejected, she opened her mail soon after to read a letter from Marshall: “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.”
Her case played a key role in desegregating schools in the South, including the University of Alabama, which admitted its first Black students in 1963. A quarter century later, the university overturned her expulsion, and she entered the graduation program in education a year later.
She graduated with a master’s in 1992. The university named an endowed scholarship in her honor and unveiled a portrait of her in the student union, with an inscription that reads, “Her initiative and courage won the right for students of all races to attend the University.”
In 2010, the university unveiled the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower, which honored those who desegregated the university. When a special marker at the College of Education honored her, she returned to speak.
In 2019, she attended the university’s graduation ceremony, where she received an honorary doctorate. “My response to fear is: do it anyway,” she said. “Let nothing stop you. You have to push forward.”
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