Background and Education
Autherine Juanita Lucy was born on October 5, 1929, in Shiloh, Alabama, to Minnie Maud Hosea and Milton Cornelius Lucy. A keen student who was the youngest of 10 siblings on a family farm, Lucy went on to earn a teaching certificate from Selma University before attending Birmingham’s Miles College, graduating with a bachelor’s in English.
Attempts to Enroll at University
There she met Pollie Ann Myers, a more outgoing and activist-focused student who suggested that they enroll at the all-white, state-backed University of Alabama for its graduate school program. They were accepted in 1952 with standard procedures commenced until university officials realized the two women were African American. Upon Lucy’s and Myers’s arrival to the admissions office, they were barred from enrolling.
Having already enlisted the NAACP’s aid, with attorneys Arthur Shores and Thurgood Marshall the two petitioned for university admittance. Lucy later became an English teacher at a Mississippi high school. It wasn’t until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, declaring segregation illegal in public schools, that she would once again confront the University of Alabama’s policies.
In the summer of 1955, a federal judge ruled that the school had to admit the two women, though the institution denied Myers’s admission on the grounds that she had been pregnant out of wedlock. After much prayer, Lucy decided to attend by herself and, on February 1, 1956, became the first African-American student to enroll at the school.
Faces Out-of-Control Throng
Receiving great support from the surrounding black community, including transportation as she wasn’t allowed to live on campus, and clandestine words of encouragement from a handful of white students, Lucy ultimately faced great danger after starting her studies. Her family received threats via phone and by the third day of her classes—Monday, February 6—a huge, out-of-control mob had appeared with deadly taunts towards Lucy. Keeping herself safe in a locked room and turning to prayer once again, she eventually had to be spirited off campus with police protection.
The university board then barred Lucy from attending on the grounds that the school was unsafe for her. Marshall and Shores then issued a formal complaint, including language that said the institution had conspired with the aggressors. Though the claim was later withdrawn, the board used that as grounds to permanently expel Lucy because she had made “false and baseless accusations” about the school.
Lucy continued with civil rights work for a time, doing lecture engagements before opting to leave the spotlight. She married fellow Miles College student and minister Hugh Lawrence Foster in the spring of 1956, and the couple went on to have four children.
Lucy has been recognized for her trailblazing efforts in desegregating the Univ. of Alabama, and in 1988 the school lifted its expulsion. She opted to receive her master’s in education, attending the school at the same time as her daughter and graduating in 1992, with a scholarship established in her honor.