The University of Alabama walked back a decision to name a school building after both a Ku Klux Klan leader and the the school’s first-ever Black student, prompting the question: Who the fuck thought that was a good idea in the first place?
Apparently the university’s trustees, whose unanimous vote on Friday undid the decision they had just made on February 3 to tack on the name of Autherine Lucy Foster, the first Black person to attend the university in 1956, to a Tuscaloosa campus building named after former state governor and KKK chapter president David Bibb Graves. The building, previously known as Bibb Graves Hall, was to be called Lucy-Graves Hall in order to “generate educational moments and help us learn from our complex and rich history,” former trustee John England Jr. — who is Black and led the group in charge of renaming considerations — told the New York Times.
Foster attended the University of Alabama as a graduate student for just three days in 1956; an egg-pelting mob forced her to hide in a classroom for hours, and afterward, the university suspended and then expelled her, saying it was for her own protection. It would be another seven years before Black students were allowed to register to attend. Foster herself returned to the school for a master’s degree decades later after her expulsion was revoked.
Graves, a Democrat, served as governor of Alabama for two terms in the 1920s and ’30s. He was elected for his first term thanks to the support of the KKK, and he at one point served as the Grand Cyclops of the Klan’s Montgomery chapter.
The “complex legacy of Governor Graves” distracted from the priority of honoring Foster for “open[ing] the door for students of all races,” the university said in a statement. Thus, after a week of pushback, including from the student body, the trustees decided it was not, in fact, a smart decision to name the building after both a Klansman and the university’s first Black student. The building will now be named Autherine Lucy Hall after Foster alone.
Between this and all those Harvard professors who recently had to retract their support for an abhorrent letter questioning the results of sexual misconduct investigations, I’m beginning to suspect higher education may not be run by unimpeachable geniuses.