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Freshman Hall should be renamed to honor Autherine Lucy Foster’s legacy

Anna Beth Peters, Contributing Writer

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Freshman Hall – what a fitting name for the new UA residence hall that has the potential to house between 700 and 900 new students. The hall is awaiting a more creative name, and there are plenty of options to choose from, but the University should select Autherine Hall as the dorm’s new name to pay tribute to the first African-American freshman to ever walk the University of Alabama’s campus.

Dedicating the new residence hall to Autherine Lucy Foster would be an amazing way for the University of Alabama to compensate for its past shortcomings in handling racial problems. Most students don’t know who Foster is or about the brutality she faced while she attended the University. Naming the new residence hall in recognition of Foster’s struggle and persistence is just one way the University can share this amazing woman’s legacy with its students.

Foster was admitted to the University in 1956, and she attended for three days before she was expelled for the sake of her own safety. Foster was threatened and attacked by an angry mob that was apparently outraged by the idea of a black woman attending college. She returned to the University in 1992 to complete her master’s degree after the University lifted her forced expulsion.

Foster played a key role in desegregating the University, and she was also a major player in the civil rights movement. The years between Foster’s expulsion from the University and her return to complete a graduate degree were marked by Vivian Malone and James Hood, two African-American students who were also able to enroll at the University. Hood left after two months, but Malone received her degree in 1965 and became the first African-American graduate of the University of Alabama.

These students suffered immensely while trying to fight for access to an education, so what has the University done to honor their efforts? They dedicated a clock tower to Foster and created a scholarship in her name. The plaza by the Foster Auditorium, named after former UA President Richard Clark Foster, was named in honor of Malone and Hood, as they were barred from entering the auditorium by Gov. George Wallace. These monuments commemorate the hardships these students faced during their time at the University, but there is still not a single building on campus dedicated to these former students.

Meanwhile, this University has various buildings named after known white supremacists. All the buildings on the University’s campus are named after white people, including some that either owned slaves, profited from their labor or both. Even the education building, the department that Foster earned her master’s degree from, is named after David Bibb Graves – a man who is heavily rumored to have fulfilled the role of the Grand Cyclops of the Montgomery Ku Klux Klan chapter. Foster does have a plaque dedicated in her honor outside the building, but whose name holds more significance?

Why does the University honor the names of people who are known to have disrespected and degraded people of color? Buildings are named after slave owners, Confederate officers, KKK members and even eugenicists, but not after those that suffered at the hands of their hatred and bigotry.

The new Freshman Hall is supposed to be a welcoming home to students, one that brings them friends and comfort. What better way to honor Foster’s legacy at the University than by acknowledging it and promising to give new students a much different experience? Namely, a college experience that includes kindness, diversity and inclusion.

Naming Freshman Hall in remembrance of Foster’s time at the University would both educate students and acknowledge the adversity Foster faced. Our campus was actually one of the first to issue an apology regarding its involvement in slavery. The University is taking steps to right its longstanding history as a place that exploited slaves and African-American inhabitants, and it now strives to promote an environment of warmth and support to all of its students. Foster deserves a place that upholds these values dedicated in her honor, as she was not given the same warm welcome that new freshmen now receive.

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Freshman Hall should be renamed to honor Autherine Lucy Foster’s legacy