Every Monday in February, as a way of honoring the legacy of Autherine Lucy and Black History Month, Dr. Meredith Bagley (Professor, communication studies) hosts tours of The University of Alabama’s campus, highlighting key places and moments in Lucy’s brief, first enrollment at UA.
On a flyer advertising the tours, Bagley summarizes Lucy’s experience at UA this way: “On February 3, 1956, Autherine Lucy became the first African American student to enroll at The University of Alabama. She and her support team showed tremendous courage and fortitude in the face of administrative resistance, ill-prepared law enforcement and, eventually, violent segregationist mobs. On Monday, February 6, 1956, the mob violence led UA Board of Trustees to suspend Lucy from campus ‘for her own safety.’ “
Bagley’s tours aim to capture and portray an accurate representation of the events that took place on campus in February of 1956. Her attention to rhetorical detail on plaques and structures around campus provides guests with a discerning look at the past.
“The way I give the tour is by focusing on public memory,” said Bagley. “Every memory has a history and so we walk through campus learning about what happened, but we also look at the history of how we’ve told the story of what happened. There’s a lot to learn from her story—not just her actions but that of her support team and those who were around her. It still has significance on our campus today.”
Since 1956, several UA faculty and staff members have sought to honor Lucy’s legacy by having a historical marker erected on campus. In 2015, Bagley spearheaded a group to make this goal a reality. This recent effort ultimately proved successful. In September 2017, the University formally recognized her heroic accomplishment with a historical marker on the lawn of Graves Hall, the site of Lucy’s final moments at UA in 1956. The marker reads:
AUTHERINE LUCY FOSTER
First African American to enroll at the University of Alabama following successful litigation under the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. She began classes on February 3, 1956; however, after three days of tumultuous demonstrations, on February 6th, she was suspended and later expelled by the University’s Board of Trustees. The expulsion was rescinded in April of 1988. In December of 1991, Ms. Lucy completed the requirements for her Master’s in Elementary Education. This achievement was the culmination of her original dream to attend The University of Alabama and paved the way for countless others to fulfill theirs. Autherine Lucy’s courage made The University of Alabama truly “one for all.”
“Trying to avoid or downplay history doesn’t work,” said Bagley. “It’s a really difficult chapter of UA history to tell, but to me that’s not a reason to avoid it. That’s a reason to study it and to think hard about what it tells us about that time, about today and how we can continue to be inspired by Lucy to be as great as she has been.”
Lucy again enrolled at the University after her expulsion had been officially annulled in 1988. She went on to graduate with her daughter in 1992, earning a master’s degree in elementary education. The University dedicated the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower in 2010, as a way of honoring her legacy and marking her as a heroine of desegregation at UA. In 2017, as a part of the Where Legends Are Made campaign, the University named Autherine Lucy a UA Legend.