The first black student to attend the University of Alabama was expelled just three days after enrollment. However, the school recently decided to award the civil rights trailblazer with an honorary doctorate degree 63 years later.
89-year-old Autherine Lucy Foster first enrolled in the University of Alabama in 1956. She was finally accepted to the school after she first applied in 1952 but was rejected for being black. Four years later, she became the first African American to attend a white school or university in the state of Alabama, the school said. But just three days later, Foster was expelled from the university due to the riots on campus and threats to her life.
Foster went on to return to the university and had her dismissal annulled over thirty years later. In 1988, Foster graduated from the school with her daughter Grazia. In the years since she has earned a master’s degree in elementary education, and the University of Alabama also honored her with two endowed scholarships and a historic marker and clocktower named for her on campus.
But the University of Alabama went even further to extend their gratitude by inviting Foster back on May 2 to award her with an honorary doctoral degree. The school said it wanted to “honor its first civil rights trailblazer.”
“The difference is that the crowds are here, but I see laughing faces instead of people frowning and displeased at me being here,” she told WBRC.
“As we rolled across the campus today, I said, ‘Gee whiz, this is a blessing in disguise to see this university permitting me to come on here and be involved in whatever they are doing today,'” she said.
Foster explained her tears of joy when receiving her degree.
“I wasn’t crying – tears were just rolling down my eyes because it’s just so different,” Foster said after receiving her honorary diploma 63 years later.
University of Alabama President Stuart R. Bell acknowledged 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.”