TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – A building at the University of Alabama named after a former governor who led the Ku Klux Klan a century ago will also be named after the first black person to attend the school, it has been decided administrators.
Graves Hall, a college building named for two terms of Governor Bibb Graves, a progressive who was also Grand Cyclops of the KKK before leaving the group in the late 1920s, will become Lucy-Graves Hall to recognize Autherine Lucy Foster, who in 1956 became the first black to register in Alabama.
She briefly attended classes at Graves Hall but was expelled three days later after her attendance sparked protests and threats to her life. In 2019, she received an honorary doctorate from the university, where she had returned and obtained a master’s degree in education in 1992.
Trustees voted to approve the change at a meeting on Thursday, media reported.
Now 92, Foster expressed his thanks for the honor.
“I am so grateful to anyone who feels this nominating opportunity has the potential to motivate and encourage others to embrace the importance of education and to have the courage to engage in things that seek to make a difference in the lives of others,” her statement read.
The student newspaper, The Crimson White, ran an editorial saying that Graves’ name does not belong in the building next to Lucy’s, given her association with the violent and racist organization.
“Graves’ membership in the Klan was a practical stepping stone in his political career. He discarded his white robes once they no longer suited his political purpose. As 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,” he said.
Graves is generally considered an effective governor who expanded education in Alabama; buildings have been named in his honor for decades on campuses across the state. But several schools have moved to remove Graves’ name from buildings in recent years as the nation reconsiders how it remembers people connected to white supremacy.
John England Jr., a former black administrator and chairman of a group considering renaming the building, said members wondered what to do about Graves’ name, given a record sullied by his Klan leadership.
“Some say he did more to directly benefit African American Alabamians than any other governor through his reform. Unfortunately, that same Governor Graves was associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Not just associated with the Ku Klux Klan, but a Grand Cyclops – It’s hard for me even to say those words,” he said.
The university recognized Foster in 2017 with a historical marker in front of Graves Hall, which houses the college of education. He also named the clock tower after Foster, and she is a member of the university’s student hall of fame.
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