Depending on who you ask, Bill Graves was either a progressive, pro-education governor of Alabama or a Ku Klux Klan grand cyclops that led the white supremacist movement at its strongest during the early 1900s.
His legacy grew to the point that buildings were named after him, including the well-known Graves Hall at the University of Alabama. Following a recent decision to rename the building Lucy-Graves Hall in honor of the university’s first Black student, Autherine Lucy Foster, the racist past of Graves came to a head and created protests from students, faculty and the community in general.
Now, it appears the University of Alabama trustees have decided to remove Graves from the situation altogether after meeting today to address the controversy.
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According to CNN, trustees decided to reverse the combined naming of Lucy-Graves Hall that occurred on February 3 after many expressed that instead of honoring Autherine Lucy Foster it did the exact opposite by putting her name next to a known white supremacist. Trustee emeritus Judge John England Jr. said on the Friday call, “This has been a challenging time. The work group in making its recommendations certainly intended for that paired name to generate educational moments that can help us learn from our complex and rich history.” He went to add that, “somehow, the honoring of Autherine Lucy Foster sort of took the background and that’s not what we wanted. We’ve heard enough from people whose opinion matter to us — students, faculty, staff — that we can do that in a better way than what we’ve done.”
More on the developments below, via CNN:
“The working group for the board consulted with more than a dozen Alabama history scholars before suggesting the name of Lucy-Graves Hall, the university system said in a news release. However, students and others on campus were not consulted.
The board’s priority was to honor Foster, the release said. ‘Unfortunately, the complex legacy of Governor Graves has distracted from that important priority,’ it read.”
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Foster’s story reads like a true pioneer for civl rights that deserves her name to be exactly where it is, becoming the first Black student to enroll at the University Of Alabama in 1956 only to be expelled three days later because she was harassed by racist peers who surrounded her at the very Graves Hall on her third day on campus. She only managed to escape harm from the mob with help from university officials. She would later return in 1989 to the university’s College of Education where she received a master’s degree in education in 1991. Three years ago, they awarded her further with an honorary doctorate.
“I wouldn’t say it doesn’t bother me,” Foster, now 92, said to AP in regards to initially having her name next to Graves’, continuing by adding, “but I accept it because I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t know they were doing it until I was approached the latter part of last year.”
A sign currently sits outside the building that reads Autherine Lucy Hall, with director of system communications Lynn Cole confirming the limestone etching will be done in a couple weeks. Happy Black History Month!
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