On this dayFeb 03, 1956

Autherine Lucy Integrates the University of Alabama; Suspended Days Later

Image | The Birmingham News

In 1952, Autherine Lucy applied to the University of Alabama's graduate program in Library Sciences with the goal of becoming a librarian. After realizing that Ms. Lucy was African American, the university denied her enrollment, sparking a three-year legal battle led by the NAACP. The battle appeared to end favorably for Ms. Lucy in 1955 when the United States Supreme Court ordered the University of Alabama to accept her, making her the university's first African American student. Unfortunately, Ms. Lucy's fight to desegregate the University of Alabama and obtain a graduate education was far from over.

On February 3, 1956, Ms. Lucy registered and attended her first classes at the university, passing burning crosses and crowds of hostile students on her way to and from class. On February 6, 1956, the environment around Ms. Lucy descended into a full-scale riot. Thousands of angry white students and community members gathered on campus and followed Ms. Lucy, hurling threats, racial slurs, eggs, and rocks at her as she passed between classes. The unrestrained mob eventually trapped Ms. Lucy in a dormitory until, hours later, she was rescued by police.

That evening, university officials suspended Ms. Lucy, citing safety concerns. Ms. Lucy's legal team challenged the suspension and initially accused the university of enabling the rioters in order to orchestrate Ms. Lucy's removal. Despite a court order to reinstate Ms. Lucy, university trustees voted to expel her for her accusations of conspiracy, ending Ms. Lucy's efforts to desegregate the university.

About EJI

The Equal Justice Initiative works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.

Learn more

About this website

Until we confront our history of racial injustice and its legacy, we cannot overcome the racial bias that exists today.

Learn more