Univ. of Alabama's first black student receives honorary doctorate

Autherine Lucy Foster was expelled in 1956 when her presence as the first African American student incited protests and riots on the campus.

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By Ali Gostanian

The first black student to enroll at the University of Alabama, who was expelled from the school after three days following riots on the campus protesting her admission, has been awarded an honorary doctorate 60 years later.

Autherine Lucy Foster, 89, of Shiloh, Alabama, first applied and was accepted to the University of Alabama in 1952. Her acceptance, however, was rescinded because she is black. A federal court order reversed the decision, allowing Lucy Foster to enroll at the university in 1956.

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Lucy Foster’s expulsion was officially annulled in 1988, allowing her to re-enroll at the university. She earned a master’s degree in education from the school in 1991.

In reflecting on her past difficulties with the university, Lucy Foster chose to stay positive.

“I love the University of Alabama, and it is an honor to be recognized in this way,” she 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."

Officials at the University of Alabama praised Lucy Foster as a civil rights trailblazer. She has been honored by the university in the past with a pair of scholarships and two campus landmarks named in her honor.

“She was the architect of desegregating Alabama’s education systems, as she became the first African American to attend a white school or university in the state of Alabama,” the press release stated.

When Lucy Foster was presented with her honorary degree at the commencement Friday, the crowd gave her a roaring standing ovation.

“It’s truly a privilege to award Mrs. Foster with an honorary degree from the University of Alabama,” university President Stuart R. 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.”