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Trailblazer Autherine Lucy Foster Awarded Honorary Doctorate From Miles College

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Autherine Lucy Foster, a Miles College alumna, received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the institution on Wednesday. (Sydney Melson, The Birmingham Times)
By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times

Miles College on Wednesday honored Autherine Lucy Foster an alumna and the first African American to enroll and attend the University of Alabama with an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

The recognition came as Lucy Foster sat in front of a small crowd in the Brown Hall Auditorium filled with Miles College leadership, the Student Government Association and a handful of friends and family.

“Autherine Lucy Foster was afflicted in every way, but not crushed. She was perplexed, but not driven to despair. She was persecuted, but never forsaken,” said Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, chairman of the Miles College Board of Trustees.

President Bobbie Knight thanked Lucy Foster for breaking down barriers so black students could follow their dreams. “Now, here I stand as the first female president of Miles College,” she said. “We wish this ceremony had been held many years ago, but in many ways that I can count, I am personally honored that it happened under my watch.”

Lucy Foster, 91, said her love for the institution was as strong as when she attended Miles College and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in English in 1952.

“I see all of you now and I’m just full to the brim and I’m so very happy to be here with you,” Lucy Foster said. “I don’t have to tell you that I love you. You know that I love Miles College.”

She poked fun at the attention. “There’s one thing about it, I think you know more about me than I do,” she said.

Clockwise from left: Jarralynne Agee, Provost and Vice President, Miles College; Bobbie Knight, President, Miles College; Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Miles College and Autherine Lucy Foster, with her Honorary Doctorate. (Sydney Melson, The Birmingham Times)

“I’m so happy to be in your presence, and to see all of the good work you’ve done. If the Lord permits me to live a bit longer, I’m gonna see if I can’t find some way to help you do more than you’ve already done.”

The room was palpable with love. The invocation by Dean Larry Batie followed He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand sung by Alisa Warren.

Jefferson-Snorton used Lucy Foster as someone to look up to, and as inspiration to never quit. “Our honoree’s life is an example of what it means to get back up again, even after obstacle and barrier are invented daily,” Jefferson-Snorton said.

Lucy Foster spoke of how she was president of the Young Women’s Christian Association during her time at Miles College, and she underlined how important her faith is to her.

“It’s always deep in my mind that the ‘Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul,’” she said, quoting the 23rd Psalm. “He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”

Born on October 5, 1929, in Shiloh, Alabama, Foster this week received her second honorary doctorate degree from an institution in the state of Alabama. The University of Alabama last year awarded her with a Doctor of Humane Letters as well.

Foster enrolled in the all-white University of Alabama in 1956 but was expelled because threats were made against her life, and riots broke out in resistance to her presence on campus. Years later, the university annulled the expulsion, and soon after, Foster enrolled and graduated from the graduate program in Education.