News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Vivian Malone Jones showed quiet courage

Most Alabamians who challenged the politics of George Wallace at the height of his popularity failed miserably.

Built solely on keeping black and white students segregated, Gov. Wallace's politics had the state's biases flowing freely by the time Vivian Malone showed up on The University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa on a hot June day in 1963.

She wanted to enroll, along with another black student, Jimmy Hood. Gov. Wallace said they couldn't, and that set up the confrontation that became known as the stand in the schoolhouse door.

Backed by the federal government, Miss Malone and Mr. Hood's challenge would trump Gov. Wallace's race card. He stepped aside eventually, after a belligerent speech against the federal government, and the students entered school.

She went on to become the first black graduate of the university and quietly went about her life as a federal employee and as Vivian Malone Jones. She and her late husband had two children.

Occasionally, she made the news to talk about Gov. Wallace and her entry into school, but mostly she was a quiet pioneer with the courage and desire to open the way for thousands of black students.

Ms. Jones died unexpectedly last week at age 63. More than 500 people gave a standing ovation at her funeral this week in Atlanta as a tribute to her courage and place in history.

Being first wasn't easy, nor was it entirely safe. The Rev. Joseph Lowery Jr. said Ms. Jones, 20 at the time, was a gentle lamb in front of a growling lion.

That is an apt portrayal of events on campus that day. Yet, she showed no fear, nor did she celebrate wearing the conqueror's mantle. Instead, she simply went to class and earned her degree.

Her legacy is visible to every person who today takes a stroll across the campus quadrangle.

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