On June 11, 1963, Vivian Malone Jones became the first black woman to register at the University of Alabama. In her efforts to matriculate at the all-white school, Jones faced death threats, as well as the defiant Alabama Governor blocking the entrance. Nevertheless, Malone persisted and on May 30, 1965, she became the first black to graduate from the University of Alabama.
Jones was born Vivian Juanita Malone in Mobile, AL on July 15, 1942. Her parents, who both worked at Brookley Air Force Base, emphasized the importance of education to their eight children. Mr. and Mrs. Malone were also civil rights activists in their local community. As a teenager, Jones joined her parents in the fight to end racial discrimination and school segregation in Alabama.
Even though Jones was a member of the National Honors Society in high school, she had few college options in segregated Alabama. In 1963, she graduated from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Education. However, the predominantly black institution had lost its accreditation. She still wished to receive a degree in business management. With the help of the local Non-Partisan Voter League and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund of Alabama, there was a two-year-long court case over it. A judge ultimately ruled that Jones and another black student, James Hood, should be allowed to enroll at the University of Alabama as per the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. The court specifically forbade the ardent segregationist Governor George Wallace from interfering with their registration.
However, when Jones and Hood showed up at the school to register on June 11, 1963, Wallace was standing at the doors flanked by Alabama state troopers to block their entrance. In his 1962 campaign for governor, he had promised, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Jones and Hood were eventually escorted by 100 guardsmen of the newly-federalized Alabama National Guard so they could register for class.
Within her first year at the university, there were three bombings at the school. One explosion was detonated four blocks from Jones’ dormitory. She ignored the threats and went out of her way to smile at the white students on campus, even though they mostly ignored her.
After becoming University of Alabama’s first black graduate, she worked for the United States Justice Department in its civil rights division. She also worked at the Environmental Protection Agency as Director of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Director of Environmental Justice before retiring in 1996. That same year, Wallace presented Jones with an award, telling her that he made a mistake in his treatment of her and that he admired her courage.
In 2005, Jones passed away at 63 years old from a stroke. Five years before her passing, Jones delivered the commencement speech at the University of Alabama graduation. She told the Class of 2000, “One day, any day, you must be bold, have courage, and walk through a door that leads to opportunity for others.”