University of Alabama Renames Building and Sparks Controversy

By Lexie Kauffman ‘22

In 1956, Autherine Lucy Foster became the first black student to enroll at the University of Alabama. However, her presence brought protests and threats to her life, so the university expelled her three days later. Foster remained close with the university, returning in 1992 for her master’s degree. In 2019, the university granted her an honorary doctorate. 

The university continued their efforts to recognize their historic student in 2017 by naming a clock tower after her. Now, in 2022, trustees have voted to add her name to a prominent academic building: Graves Hall. The building will now be known as Lucy-Graves Hall. 

Most agree that Foster’s name belongs on campus, but the name besides hers is sparking controversy. Governor Bibb Graves, the building name that Foster will share, was a two-term governor and a prominent leader of the Klu Klux Klan, serving as the Grand Cyclops for many years. 

Many have argued against the permanence of Graves’ legacy on campus. The Crimson White, the university’s student newspaper published an editorial arguing that Graves’ name does not belong on the building alongside Foster.

“Graves’ Klan membership was a convenient stepping stone in his political career. He shed his white robes once they no longer suited his political purpose,” the student wrote. “While he became known as one of the most progressive governors in the South, his ability to do so came with the endorsement of a white supremacist organization.”

Despite the controversy, his name remains, but that does not take away from Foster’s honor. Foster, now 92, put out a statement expressing her gratitude for the recognition.

“I am so grateful to all who think that this naming opportunity has the potential to motivate and encourage others to embrace the importance of education, and to have the courage to commit to things that seek to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Foster’s legacy will continue to impact the students of the University of Alabama, even next to a former leader of a racist hate group. 

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