Juanita Lucy Autherine Foster was born October 5, 1929 in Shiloh, Alabama the daughter of Hosea and Milton Lucy. As one of ten children she went to public schools through junior high. She worked in the cotton fields and also helped to raise watermelon, sweet potatoes and peanuts for her family. She graduated from Linden Academy (high school) in 1947.
Lucy’s undergraduate years were spent at Selma University in Alabama and the all-Black Miles College in Fairfield, Alambama. In Fairfield she met Hugh L Foster whom she later married. In 1952 she graduated with a B.A. in English. From there she decided to go to graduate school at the University of Alabama, never realizing how that decision would change her life forever!
She knew it would be challenging at best to get into the school and so she approached the NAACCP for help. Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley and Arthur Shores were assigned as her attorneys. Court action to get her enrolled began in July, 1953.
Neither Lucy, nor her family, friends or attorneys thought the case would go as far as it did. On June 29, 1955 the NAACP secured a court order restraining the university from rejecting Lucy and her friend based solely upon their race, thereby forcing the University of Alabama to admit them. Two days later the court amended the order to apply to all other African-American students wishing to enroll in the university. So, on February 3, 1956 a 26-year old Lucy enrolled as a graduate student in library science.
The other students, however, were not excited about the prospect of having Lucy in their ranks and they mobbed and mocked her. They threw eggs at her and tried to block her way. Police escorts were needed to get Lucy to and from her classes. That same evening she was suspended from the university. The Board stated that the action was taken for her safety and that of the other students. The NAACCP lawyers did not accept the suspense and took action against the university again.
Unfortunately they were not able to make a case on Lucy’s behalf and the court determined that the suspension was justified and Lucy was expelled from school.
Unfortunately Lucy was not able to find work as a teacher following the University of Alabama expulsion. She was considered too controversial. So, in the spring of 1956 she moved to Texas and married her college sweetheart, the Reverend Hugh Foster. They had five children and later on she was hired as a teacher. After 17 years in Texas the Foster’s returned to Alabama in 1974 where Lucy worked as a substitute teacher. It was during this time period that she began speaking periodically at civil rights meetings.
Oddly enough, in 1988 two professors at the University of Alabama invited her to speak to a class, telling students about her experienced more than 30 years before. One of the students asked, “Did you ever try to re-enroll?” Foster admitted that she had not, but said she would consider it. Several faculty members came to her aid and worked with the university to overturn her expulsion.
So, a year later, Autherine Lucy Foster entered the University of Alabama to earn her Master’s Degree in elementary education. Her daughter Grazia enrolled about the same time as an undergraduate majoring in corporate finance. In the spring of 1992, they both received degrees.
Autherine Lucy Foster is truly a gutsy woman!