The trustees of the University of Alabama on Friday reversed a decision to name a building after both a Ku Klux Klan leader and the first Black person to attend the school, instead voting to solely honor the student, Autherine Lucy Foster.
During a special meeting on Friday morning, 13 trustees unanimously voted to rename Lucy-Graves Hall for Ms. Foster, who became the first Black person to attend the school in 1956. The building will now be called Autherine Lucy Hall.
Friday’s vote amended a decision the university made on Feb. 3, when it said that a building named for David Bibb Graves, a former governor and Klan leader, would also carry the name of Ms. Foster. That decision drew an immediate backlash, as students and others criticized the school, accusing it of conflating their legacies.
The university said this week that its priority was to honor Ms. Foster, who “opened the door for students of all races” at the school. “The complex legacy of Governor Graves distracted from that important priority,” the school’s statement said.
Amending the name of the building was done “in honor of Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster’s leadership and to recognize her life as a dedicated educator,” the university said.
“This has been a challenging time,” John England Jr., a retired judge and former trustee who served as the chairman of a group that considered the renaming, said during the special meeting on Friday. He added that the group, in making its recommendation, intended “for that paired name to generate educational moments and help us learn from our complex and rich history.”
“Well, somehow or another, the honoring of Autherine Lucy Foster sort of took the background,” he said. “That’s not what we wanted.”
The decision last week to add Ms. Foster’s name to the building was timed exactly 66 years after she started classes on the university’s campus in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The university said last week that it had been in contact with Ms. Foster, now 92, and that her family was informed throughout the naming process. Ms. Foster could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The re-examination of the building’s name was part of an initiative that the university has undertaken to address its history of segregation. Over the last several years, institutions across the country have been re-examining the names of buildings associated with racism and slavery.
During the initial meeting this month, Mr. England said the trustees had wrestled with whether to retain the name of the former governor, a Democrat who served two terms, from 1927-31 and 1935-39.
In 1927, Mr. Graves championed a Klan candidate running to be the mayor of Montgomery, and a decade later he admitted that he had been a member of the group. He told The New York Times that when he became governor he “discontinued” associations with it.
Mr. England told the board of trustees at its earlier meeting that although Mr. Graves’s connection with the Klan was “deplorable,” it was born of political expediency early in his career. The decision to include his name with Ms. Foster’s was made “after much wrestling with it.”
After the university announced the building would have two names, students and organizers criticized the school. The student newspaper, The Crimson White, said the building should not bear the name of a person who endorsed white supremacy at any time. In an editorial, it said the decision was a “cowardly compromise that presents the illusion of forward momentum while clinging to a racist past.”
The former governor’s name has been removed from structures at other schools in the state, including Troy University, Alabama State University and Jacksonville State University, according to The Montgomery Advertiser.
In a statement issued through the university system last week, Ms. Foster said she was grateful “to all who think that this naming opportunity has the potential to motivate and encourage others to embrace the importance of education, and to have the courage to commit to things that seek to make a difference in the lives of others.”
During the trustee meeting on Friday, Mr. England said, “my priority is that we move forward and we honor someone who means a lot to me and I am sure a lot to you, that is Dr. Autherine Lucy Foster, by placing her name standing alone on the education building.”