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Saturday, October 15, 2005

I Wish I Had Known Her

Vivian Malone Jones, one of two black students whose effort to enroll at the University of Alabama led to George Wallace's infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door" in 1963, has died. She was 63 years old. Her sister Sharon Malone told The Associated Press the cause of death was a stroke. I wish I'd had an opportunity to meet her. I wish I'd had an opportunity to speak with her about her experience. Ms Jones, a retired federal employee, lived in Atlanta.

Vivian Juanita Malone grew up in Mobile, Alabama, where she was a member of the National Honor Society in high school. She had enrolled at historically black Alabama A&M University in Huntsville and earned a bachelor's degree at the predominantly black university, but it lost its accreditation. To get an accredited degree, she applied to the University of Alabama's School of Commerce and Business Administration and was admitted as a junior.

Her entrance to the university came as the civil rights struggle raged across the South. On June 12, the day after Ms. Jones and James Hood were escorted into the university by federalized National Guard troops, the civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot to death in Jackson, Miss.

The move led to then-Governor George Wallace's infamous stand in defiance of orders to admit black students. The performance of Governor Wallace, who stood at the doorway of Foster Auditorium flanked by state troopers, fulfilled a campaign pledge to stop integration at "the schoolhouse door." Some historians have written his defiance was scripted and came with a promise to federal authorities that he would be brief and would soon comply.

At the time, The Tuscaloosa News wrote scornfully that Wallace "squeezed every suspenseful moment of drama from the occasion."

Ms Jones and James Hood, accompanied by then-Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, enrolled after Wallace finished his statement and left.

On May 30, 1965, Ms. Jones became the first black to graduate from the University of Alabama in its 134 years of existence, earning a degree in business management with a B-plus average.

Next Post: More about this Civil Rights She-ro.


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