Civil Conversations: Day 5, A tour through UA history

Dr. Bagley shares the good, bad and ugly history of the University of Alabama

More stories from Sam Johnson


Sam Johnson

Dr. Bagley sharing the happy ending to Lucy-Foster’s story in front of Lucy Hall.

A turbulent and unexpected trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala. came to a heartfelt conclusion for students on the UW-Eau Claire spring 2022 civil rights pilgrimage.

Following a March 22 evening full of canceled activities due to thunder, lightning, flash flooding and a tornado warning, the trip returned to its intended schedule with a tour of the University of Alabama.

At 7 a.m. on March 23, the bus arrived on campus near Foster Auditorium, the site of the famed 1963 “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door,” when two Black students, backed by the federal government, faced off against Governor George Wallace and began the official desegregation of UA.

The group was greeted by Dr. Meridith M. Bagley, associate professor and undergraduate program coordinator in the college of communication and information sciences.

Upon approaching Foster, the group passed a small plaque placed in 2004 highlighting the stand, followed by large, bright monuments dedicated to some of UA’s sports teams.

Once Bagley began speaking, the pace and tone of the tour became clear. She identified herself as a quick and passionate talker, then began.

During the first ten minutes, more became clear about Bagley. She was absurdly educated and did not mince words. 

What seemed like a college degree’s worth of information was given to the group throughout the two-hour-long tour.

Everything from slavery and the Civil War to modern-day events were covered in a concise, informative and honest manner. Bagley shared the good, bad and ugly history of UA.

Bagley said events closer to the group’s hometown inspired recent changes on campus. The 2020 murder of George Floyd was the catalyst for the renaming of a number of campus buildings.

“Student activists, since I’ve been here, have been asking about building names,” Bagley said. “Klan leaders, confederate generals and other racists are still being honored by campus.”

The main emphasis of the tour was the story of Autherine Lucy-Foster, the “true first Black UA student,” according to Bagley.

She applied and attended UA for a short period in 1956, seven years before the stand at Foster Auditorium (named for Richard Foster, a former president, not Lucy-Foster), until she was chased off campus by a mob of hundreds of white students, community members and klan members from all over the state.

The tour concluded in front of the newly-named Autherine Lucy Hall, where Bagley told the group the happy ending to Lucy-Foster’s story.

In 1991, Lucy-Foster’s expulsion was lifted, she was invited back to campus, where she returned, earned a masters degree in education and walked at graduation alongside her daughter.

She was eventually given an honorary doctorate and in February of 2022, had her name permanently etched into the building, as well as civil rights history.

Johnson can be reached at [email protected].