Jones, Vivian Malone

views updated

Vivian Malone Jones


Civil rights pioneer

Vivian Malone Jones entered the annals of American civil rights history on June 11, 1963, when she enrolled in the all-white University of Alabama. She and another black student did so with the help of a federal court order and a decision by the White House to protect the pair's rights with the help of National Guard troops on campus. Asked many times about her brave act during the height of the civil rights movement in the South, which occurred just a day before Mississippi activist Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway, Malone once said that "my mind was mostly on going to class and doing the best I could," Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Kay Powell quoted her as saying. "It had taken me two and a half years to gain admission, and nobody—including the governor—was going to tell me I didn't have the right to attend that school."

Vivian Juanita Malone was born in 1942, in Mobile, Alabama, and was one of eight children in her family. She belonged to her high school's National Honor Society chapter, and went on to Alabama A&M University, a historically black school in Huntsville. She spent two years there, but the school had lost its accreditation, and Malone felt that a degree from it would not be recognized when it came time to seek a job in her field. She also wanted to study accounting, but Alabama A&M did not have a degree-track program in the subject.

Sought Education from a Segregated University

Malone applied to the University of Alabama, though it was an exclusively all-white institution at the time, and was admitted as a junior to its School of Commerce and Business Administration. The university already had a well-established reputation for barring black students, and had managed to skirt previous legal challenges to its discriminatory policies. In 1956, an African-American woman named Autherine Lucy had enrolled in its library science program, but was expelled after three days of harassment, including being followed by a mob of hostile students everywhere on campus. The school claimed it could not guarantee her safety, and was thus forced to expel her for her own protection. A few years later, a group of black students had tried to enroll in classes at the similarly all-white University of Mississippi, and their appearance on campus had sparked a riot.

On June 11, 1963, Malone and another student, James Hood, arrived at the University of Alabama accompanied by Nicholas Katzenbach, deputy of U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. They tried to enter Foster Auditorium, where the University of Alabama's next class-registration session was underway, but were met at the door by Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. A recently elected Democrat, Wallace was adamantly opposed to federal efforts to desegregate the institutions of the Deep South. But Malone and Hood's bid to enter the school had already become part of a formal legal challenge, and there was a federal court injunction ordering the University of Alabama to allow them to register for classes.

As photographers and television cameras documented the stand-off, Katzenbach asked Wallace to step aside and allow the court order to be fulfilled; Wallace replied that the states were guaranteed oversight of their public schools by the U.S. Constitution. Katzenbach had Malone and Hood wait in the car, out of the 100-degree heat, while he telephoned U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who immediately issued an order federalizing the Alabama National Guard. When the troops arrived nearly five hours later, Wallace stepped aside to let Malone and Hood enter the auditorium.

Malone had to be escorted by U.S. marshals to and from class for the first few days of the school term, and a guard was even posted outside her dormitory room. The student body themselves seemed indifferent to the stand-off, with some telling newspaper reporters they were glad it had ended quietly; others cheered as the governor's car sped away and voiced support for Hood when he entered the auditorium; a few yelled racial epithets at the two, however. One woman in Malone's dormitory building conceded to New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith that Malone "has a right to be here. But no one can be forced to accept her."

The stress of the situation ate at Hood, who soon transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit, leaving Malone as the sole black student for that first year on a campus of nearly 10,000 students. She graduated in 1965 with a degree in business management as the first black graduate in the school's history. At a speech given at the Wells College Spring Convocation in 2004, Malone remarked that her experience made her want to spend her career "serving the unserved." She spent much of her career at work in the federal government, first in Washington, D.C., and then in Atlanta, Georgia. She held such positions as employee and personnel specialist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, director of civil rights and urban affairs at the Environmental Protection Agency, and adviser to the President's Council on Youth Opportunity. She finally retired from the federal government in 1996 as director of environmental justice with the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1996, Malone became the first recipient of the Lurleen B. Wallace Award from the George Wallace Family Foundation, named in honor of the former governor's wife. Wallace was paralyzed and wheelchair-bound after a 1972 assassination attempt, and later repudiated his racist political rhetoric and began reaching out to the same civil rights leaders he had once fought so bitterly. He met privately with Malone and asked for her forgiveness, admitting that his attempt to personally bar her and Hood from entering the University of Alabama had been "wrong, that it shouldn't have happened. He said he felt the state of Alabama is better now than it was then as a result of what has happened through the integration and the desegregation of the schools here," the San Francisco Chronicle quoted her as saying about their reconciliation. Further signs of progress came on August 12, 2000, when Malone was granted with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by the University of Alabama. In 2004, the Alabama State Legislature passed a congratulatory resolution commemorating her outstanding professional accomplishments.

At a Glance …

Born Vivian Juanita Malone on July 15, 1942, in Mobile, AL; died on October 13, 2005, in Atlanta, GA; married Mack Jones (died 2004); children: Michael, Monica. Education: Attended Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, 1961–63; University of Alabama, BS, 1965.

Career: Department of Veterans Affairs, employee and personnel specialist, 1965–?; Environmental Protection Agency, director of civil rights and urban affairs; Voter Education Project, Atlanta, GA, executive director, 1977–?; President's Council on Youth Opportunity, adviser; Environmental Protection Agency, director of environmental justice, ?–1996.

Memberships: NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Council of Negro Women.

Awards: Environmental Protection Agency, Silver Medal; Lurleen B. Wallace Award of Courage, George Wallace Family Foundation, 1996; University of Alabama, honorary doctorate, 2000.

Malone enjoyed more than 35 years of marriage to Mack Jones, who had been a driver that the University of Alabama had hired for her. Mack Jones graduated from Stillman College in the 1960s and later became an obstetrician. The couple and their two children made their home in Atlanta, Georgia. While she is best known as Vivian Malone for her groundbreaking efforts in 1963, she used her married name, Vivian Malone Jones, during her professional career. Vivian Malone Jones died after a stroke on October 13, 2005, at the age of 63. A year earlier, she had spoken at a Black History Month event in upstate New York, and told the audience of college students that the weeks following that June day in 1963 "were tough times for James and I and our families. I prayed that I would not feel fear, even amid so much hatred and evil," Syracuse Post-Standard writer David L. Shaw quoted her as saying. "I hope we can loosen the shackles of hatred and redouble our efforts to make this nation the best it can be, where its people are judged on the beauty of what is inside and where we open doors to all."



Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1992.


Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 14, 2005, p. E1.

Guardian (London, England), October 18, 2005, p. 32.

New York Times, June 12, 1963, p. 1; October 14, 2005, p. C15.

Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), February 3, 2004, p. B1.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 1996, p. A3.

Washington Post, October 14, 2005, p. B6.


"Wells College Spring Convocation 2004: Opening Minds, Opening Doors," Wells College,