Autherine Juanita Lucy (1930-)
Too often overlooked in the history of the modern civil rights movement, Autherine Lucy was the first black to attempt to integrate the University of Alabama--in February of 1956, which was less than two years after the Supreme Court decision ordering school integration and more than a year prior to the great crisis in Little Rock led by Daisy Bates.
Three years after beginning her attempts to study library science at the tax-supported university, Lucy won a federal lawsuit that required the university to admit her. She enrolled on February 3, but violence broke out in response to her admission, with a thousand rioters attempting to storm the car in which she rode to class with the dean of women. When the campus president's home was attacked, the administration suspended Lucy just three days after admitting her.
Despite threats on her life, Lucy went back to court and again her right to enroll was upheld. The NAACP lawyer who took her case was Thurgood Marshall, later the first black justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In March, however, the university's administration trumped up a technical violation of school rules and expelled her. Neither Marshall nor the NAACP pursued this obvious miscarriage of justice, allowing Lucy's case to quietly die.
Autherine Lucy's almost single-handed effort to integrate a major higher education institution in the Deep South took tremendous courage. Nonetheless, her name is not well known, while attention often focuses instead on later integration efforts by men.
- Reprinted with permission from: Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History: An A to Z of People, Organizations, Issues, and Events, (Prentice Hall, 1994), 216.