Black student & ex-KKK member get same honors at US university
The University of Alabama has renamed Graves Hall – named after former Ku Klux Klan member and state Governor Bibb Graves – Lucy-Graves Hall, after the first African American student to attend the university.
The hall was renamed on Thursday, on the 66th anniversary of Autherine Lucy Foster’s enrolment at the university, the school’s newspaper reported. Lucy attended the university for three days before riots and protests led to her suspension, and the school would not see another black student until 1963.
However, Graves’ name remains on the hall. The Democrat served two terms as Alabama’s governor in the 1920s and 1930s. Graves was considered a progressive for his time, and met with opponents of racial segregation, yet had been Grand Cyclops of the Montgomery chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and enjoyed the Klan’s secret endorsement during his 1926 election campaign.
University management cited Graves’ resignation from the Klan in 1928 and his work alongside “labor unions, prohibitionists, and women’s suffrage advocates” to defend keeping his name on the hall. However, some students aren’t happy.
The college newspaper’s editorial board described the change as a “cowardly compromise that presents the illusion of forward momentum while clinging to a racist past.” The board argued that “combining Lucy and Graves’ names conflates two legacies – one the University should embrace, and another it needs to shed. Attempting to commemorate them as equals is unjust.”
Amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the university set up a working group to rename several buildings on campus. Two buildings, one named after a segregationist university board member and the other after a historian who allegedly refused to teach black students, were renamed in 2021.
Graves’ name remains on buildings at Auburn University, the University of Montevallo, and the University of North Alabama. However, Troy University in 2020 renamed its Bibb Graves Hall in honor of Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis.