Alabama school adds name of first black student to building named for KKK leader

A University of Alabama building named for a former governor who led the Ku Klux Klan a century ago will soon also be named after the school’s first black student.

University trustees voted on Thursday to rename Graves Hall, originally named for Bibb Graves, A two-term Democratic governor and Ku Klux Klan officer before leaving the group in the late 1920s.

The name of the academic building was changed to Lucy-Graves Hall, after both Graves and Autherine Lucy Foster, who in 1956 became the first black person to enroll at Alabama.

Foster attended her first day of classes 66 years ago on February 3, 1956. She completed a three days of classes before riots erupted on campus. The now-92-year-old was suspended by the school, fearing for her safety.

Before her suspension she attended classes in the hall now bearing her name.

In 2019, Foster was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University, where she returned in 1992 and earned her masters degree in education.

The 92-year-old educator was appreciative of the honor.

‘I am so grateful to all who think that this naming opportunity has the potential to motivate and encourage others to embrace the importance of education, ,and to have the courage to commit to things that seek to make a difference in the lives of others,’ she said in a statement.

The University of Alabama’s student newspaper, The Crimson White, published an editorial expressing outrage that Foster’s name would be on the building next to Grave’s, given his association with the racist organization.

‘Combining Lucy and Graves’ names conflates two legacies — one the University should embrace, and another it needs to shed. Attempting to commemorate them as equals is unjust,’ the editorial read.

‘Graves’ Klan membership was a convenient stepping stone in his political career. He shed his white robes once they no longer suited his political purpose. While he became known as one of the most progressive governors in the South, his ability to do so came with the endorsement of a white supremacist organization.’

Graves is generally considered an effective governor for expanding education in the state, but several schools have chosen to remove his name off buildings due to his links to white supremacy.

The university recognized Foster in 2017 with a historic marker in front of Graves Hall, which houses the college of education. A clock tower on campus was also named after her, and she is a member of the university’s student hall of fame.

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