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Saturday, October 15, 2005

A She-ro I Wish I Had Met

After graduating from the University of Alabama, Vivian Malone Jones 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 to sell life insurance.

One of her strongest memories of Alabama was that she often smiled at white students, but got no response.

Some years later, in 1996, the Lurleen B. Wallace Award for Courage, named for Wallace's late wife, was graciously accepted by Ms Jones from the family of the former governor. By this time George Wallace was a feeble old man confined to a wheelchair the result of a would-be assassin's bullet.

At an appearance last year in Mobile, Alabama, the place where she grew up, she recalled her meeting with Wallace. Jones revealed the late governor told her he'd made a mistake 33 years earlier and that he admired her. "I asked him why did he do it," she said. "He said he did what he felt needed to be done at that point in time, but he would not do that today. At that point, we spoke — I spoke — of forgiveness."

While she attended college the university hired a driver for her, a student at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa named Mack Jones. They later married, and he became an obstetrician. Her husband Dr. Mack Jones passed away last year.

Ms. Jones is survived by her son, Michael A. Jones; her daughter, Monica Jones Shareef; three brothers; four sisters; and two grandchildren.

Vivian Juanita Malone Jones was symbolic for my generation. She was the ideal. We wanted to be educated. We wanted to have the best education available. If it could be attained by attending a formerly all white college or university, then so be it. We just wanted to be educated. Vivian Malone Jones embodied our desire to be educated to elevate our position in society. We wanted to have what everyone else in America wants. We wanted good paying jobs to be able to provide for our families, to live in beautiful homes in safe neighborhoods.

Vivian Malone Jones suggested one lesson that might be taken from her historic experience: "You must always be ready to seize the moment."
I recognize the decision she made was not an easy one. The abuse and mistreatment she endured as "the first" or even "the second" was difficult. We appreciate what you did Vivian. Thank you.

On behalf of my generation I extend sincere condolences to the family.


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