More than 60 years ago, a young Black college student tried to start classes at the University of Alabama. The Civil Rights movement was underway and she was a poster child for equal rights in education. Autherine Lucy Foster did enroll as the first Black student, but it didn’t last. She was expelled three days later after riots on and around school grounds protesting her admission erupted.
But now, an honorary degree has been awarded to the 89-year-old Foster, now a resident of Shiloh, Alabama. In 1952, she was accepted, but it was until 1956, after a federal court order that she was actually allowed on the campus. Her original expulsion was not officially annulled until 1988. She went on to earn a master’s in education, but the process was not completed until 1991.
“I love the University of Alabama and it is an honor to be recognized in this way,” Foster said in a press release. “I am thankful for opportunities such as this, which allow us to talk about the past while looking to the future.” This is not the first time the University of Alabama has paid homage to Foster. The school offers two scholarships in her name and there are two campus landmarks named after her.
“She was the architect of desegregating Alabama’s education system, as she became the first African American to attend a White school or university in the state of Alabama,” a press release from the school stated. When the school’s president, Stuart R. Bell, presented Foster with an honorary degree last Friday, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation, reports NBC News. “It’s truly a privilege to award Mrs. Foster with an honorary degree from the University of Alabama,” Bell said. “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.”