Alabama’s decision to join Autherine Lucy Foster’s name with a Klansman’s sparks controversy

Graves Hall
Lucy-Graves Hall

By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Zhoee’ Williams

On the anniversary of Autherine Lucy Foster’s first attempt at attending the then-segregated University of Alabama, the UA Board of Trustees voted to honor her by adding her name to a building on campus.

That building? College of Education building Graves Hall, named for former Alabama Gov. Bibb Graves, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan during his successful gubernatorial bid in 1926. 

But Alabama isn’t removing Graves’ name from the building. In many people’s eyes, what they did is much worse. Graves Hall is now Lucy-Graves Hall.

“This decision represents mockery against African Americans,” said UA student Chloe King, who is Black. “It makes me embarrassed to attend here as a student. Perhaps they just feel as if they can take our money and time here and think that we would not speak out against such a horrible decision.”

Lucy Foster was the first African American to enroll at the university on Feb. 3, 1956. She was expelled from the university after three days because of death threats and riots. Currently, there is a historic marker outside what is now Lucy-Graves Hall explaining the extent of her legacy.

Graves was not a member of the KKK during his 1922 gubernatorial bid, but after losing that race, he found support with the white supremacist group. Years after his successful election, he left the group.

John England Jr., chair of the building names workshop and a UA System trustee, said Graves is regarded as a progressive governor. Despite his effectiveness in office, his ties to the white supremacist group remains a massive stain on his legacy, one most aren’t willing to forgive.

Since the announcement, many students, alumni, and people around the country have weighed in on UA’s decision.

“It’s degrading to Mrs. Foster that she can’t have her own building like everyone else,” said Aiyana Pough, a Black senior studying African American studies. “On top of that, she shares the building with someone who was a member of the KKK. It is literally a slap in the face.”

Ryan Waelde, a white alumnus who graduated in 2020, said he believes UA is acting in bad faith.

“UA has an amazing opportunity as the flagship institution in Alabama to be a thoughtful leader in terms of racial injustice, but instead they squander that opportunity and continue to act in bad faith,” Waelde said.

Many feel like the school is acting carelessly as a university that has a racist past by not consulting the student body before making a decision as delicate as this.

“This is very distasteful to students who fight monetarily and mentally to be able to attend this school,” said Barbara Whitesell, a Black alumna who graduated in 2021. “As a minority student, we have been shown over and over again where the university stands, and it is not with minority students that attend this university.”

Many believe the university should completely remove Graves’ name from the building and rename it Lucy Hall, much like when trustees renamed Moore Hall to Wade Hall in honor of Archie Wade, the first Black faculty member at the university.

“In the question of diversity, equity and inclusion, you don’t have to use the first African American student and a Klansman in the name of being diverse and inclusive,” said Carlos Chaverst Jr., a Black Birmingham activist and author. “It is OK to pick a stance. It is OK to say we will remove this name and keep this one.”

Student Joseph Hoffman said he agrees.

“I believe they should immediately remove Graves’ name from the building, naming the building solely after Autherine Lucy Foster,” Hoffman said.

Other universities including Troy University, Auburn University and Alabama State University, have removed Graves’s name from academic buildings, saying his name and background do not promote the current values of their institutions.

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