Vivian Malone Jones may not hold the sway of other civil rights figures who fought against Jim Crow laws in the Deep South, but her legacy as one of the vital cogs of the movement remains intact.
In 1963, Malone Jones made headlines as one of the University of Alabama’s first two African-American students during the infamous “Stand In The Schoolhouse Door” event. On this day in 1965, she would triumph as the first Black person to graduate from the formerly segregated university.
Malone Jones was an exceptional high school student who learned that the University of Alabama’s southern branch in Mobile, the University of South Alabama, was going to desegregate.
Malone Jones and several other Black students had their applications rejected because of “class size” and “enrollment” but it was long alleged that race was the main barrier. Malone Jones ultimately earned her Bachelor’s degree from Alabama A&M, a historically black college. But she wanted to earn an accounting degree from the University of Alabama so she sought the help of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
They were already working with another Black student, James Hood, and a district judge ruled in favor of the pair entering the university. However, then-governor George Wallace, flanked by armed guards, headed the students off at the door on June 11, 1963.
Despite Malone Jones and Hood having legal right to enter, Wallace made a political stand and kept his promise to uphold segregation in the state, using the now infamous slogan of “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever.”
The tense situation reached a head when then-Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach ordered Gov. Wallace aside. Defiant, the governor refused to stand down, prompting President John F. Kennedy to deploy the Alabama National Guard to escort the students.
Reluctantly, Gov. Wallace allowed Malone Jones and Hood to register for classes. In an event many suspected was related, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was killed in Jackson, Miss. the next day. Despite Evers’ death and the constant threat of violence, Malone Jones was determined to press on for her business management degree.
Hood would eventually drop out of the program because of mounting mental and physical pressures. As reported by news agencies at the time of Malone Jones’ death, the university hired a driver, Mack Jones, from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa to ensure her safety.
The pair would eventually marry in September 1966 after Jones became a notable obstetrician. In 1996, Governor Wallace and Malone Jones met during an awards ceremony and apologized for his actions.
Malone Jones went on to work at several key government positions, including the civil rights division of the United States State Department. US Attorney General Eric Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone, is Malone Jones’ younger sister.
Malone Jones died at age 63 in 2005.