Autherine Lucy Foster was welcomed to the University of Alabama’s commencement ceremony on May 3, 2019, to receive an honorary doctoral degree – a stark contrast to when she first set foot on the campus over 60 years ago.
Foster is revered as a civil rights trailblazer at the university for being the first African American in the state of Alabama to attend a white school or university. After earning a degree in English from Miles College in 1952, Foster applied and was accepted into the University of Alabama.
The acceptance was swiftly rescinded because Foster wasn’t white. When a federal court order later reversed that decision, Foster officially enrolled in classes at the university in 1956. She only went to class for three days before the university removed her due to riots on campus and threats against her life.
As the decades wore on, times have certainly changed for the better and Foster’s dismissal from UA was annulled in 1988. She re-enrolled at the university and by then, attended with her daughter Grazia. They graduated together in 1991, with Foster earning her master’s degree in elementary education.
In 2019, UA welcomed Mrs. Foster back on campus to honor her with a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. The 89-year-old received applause and a standing ovation when she received her honor.
“I wasn’t crying, but tears was just rolling down my eyes because it’s just so different and so unique for me to be able to come back to such a university as this. The difference is the crowds are here. I see laughing faces instead of people frowning and displeased with me being here. I feel elated. Somewhat embarrassed because I don’t feel exactly worthy of what I’m getting. But I’m going to thank them and act as if I can,” she told WBRC.