MARCH 1, 1956

Autherine Lucy, center, in 1956, after she had begun attending classes at the University of Alabama only to face mobs that attacked her. Credit: Gene Herrick/Associated Press

The University of Alabama expelled Autherine Lucy, the first Black student ever admitted. Thousands of students rioted when she was admitted and attended her first class on Feb. 3, 1956. She charged in court that university officials had been complicit in allowing the disorder, as a means of avoiding compliance with the court order that granted her admission. The trustees expelled her for making such “outrageous, false and baseless accusations.” 

In 1980, the university overturned her expulsion, and a dozen years later, she earned a master’s degree in elementary education at the university, which endowed a scholarship in her name. The institution also hung a portrait with this inscription: “Her initiative and courage won the right for students of all races to attend the university.” 

When the university honored her with a monument in 2019, she looked at the huge gathering and said, “The last time I saw a crowd like this, I didn’t know what they were waiting for.” She told the students, “If you don’t know your history, you will forget your past.”

 She recalled the hate she was showered with when she enrolled and the scripture that gave her strength: “The Lord is with me; I will not fear: What can man do to me?”

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Jerry MitchellInvestigative Reporter

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.