Autherine Juanita Lucy (October 5, 1929 – March 2, 2022) was an American activist who was the first African-American student to attend the University of Alabama, in 1956.Her expulsion from the institution later that year led to the university’s President Oliver Carmichael‘s resignation.Years later, the University admitted her as a master’s student and in 2010 a clock tower was erected in her honor on its campus.
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 the Supreme Court decided something, then the rest of the country would 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. A series of legal proceedings lasted from 1953 until 1955.
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.”
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. The University named an endowed fellowship 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. She is a sister of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.”
The University of Alabama/You Tube