Alabama Puts First Black Student's Name on Building Alongside Ex-KKK Leader

The University of Alabama is adding the name of the first Black student to attend the university to a building, renaming Graves Hall to Lucy-Graves Hall.

The Board of Trustees' decision on Thursday to add Autherine Lucy Foster's name to the building comes 66 years after she first enrolled at the school. Foster, 92, attended the university for three days in 1956, but her attendance led to riots and protests and she was expelled, according to The Crimson White, the University of Alabama's student newspaper. She earned her master's from the school in 1992 and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2019.

The building will still feature the name of former Alabama Governor Bibb Graves, who was once the Grand Cyclops of the KKK before denouncing the group in the late 1920s.

The decision not to remove Graves' name from the building drew criticism on Twitter. Katie Deale, an alumna of the university, wrote on Twitter and threatened not to donate "a cent" to the school until the university removes Graves' name.

Meredith Cummings, an instructor at and an alumna of the school, told Newsweek that she disagreed with keeping Graves' name.

"This is just one more [decision] in a long line of decisions that are questionable and it seems like this one would have been an easy one, not to put a Klan member's name right next to someone revered like Autherine [Lucy] Foster. It seems like a no-brainer," Cummings said.

An opinion piece published on The Crimson White questions whether his name belongs on the building at all. In 2020, nearly 2,000 people signed a Change.org petition to rename Graves Hall exclusively for Foster. In 2017, a dedication marker was placed in front of the building.

Autherine Lucy Foster University of Alabama
Autherine Lucy Foster's name was added to Graves Hall on the 66th anniversary of her enrollment as the University of Alabama's first Black student. Above, the Autherine Lucy Foster historic marker stands outside Bibb Graves Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa on July 5, 2018. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Trustee Emeritus Judge John England Jr., the chair of the building-names working group in charge of renaming buildings, told The Crimson White that some historians consider Graves as one of the most progressive governors in Alabama's history.

"Some say he did more to directly benefit African American Alabamians than any other governor through his many reforms," England said.

The working group chose to leave Graves' name on the building since his involvement in the KKK was politically motivated, according to The Crimson White.

"Many historians have concluded that Gov. Graves's association with the KKK was a political maneuver in that it helped Gov. Graves along with certain allies," the board resolution said.

Despite claims that Graves was a progressive governor, Cummings maintains that no Klan members should have their name on a building.

Graves' name also is on a building at Auburn University in Alabama. Other universities in the state, including Alabama State University, Jacksonville State University and Troy University, opted to remove his name from buildings.