Vivian Malone Jones became the first Black student to graduate from the formerly segregated University of Alabama on May 30, 1965. She was one of the first two Black students at the University in 1963. Despite being an exceptional high school student and member of the National Honor Society, Ms. Malone Jones was one of several Black students to have their applications rejected from UA because of “class size” and “enrollment” issues. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Alabama A&M, a 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. Along with another Black student, James Hood, Ms. Malone Jones and LDF filed suit against UA for denying entry to Black students. A district judge ruled in favor of the pair entering the university but was blocked by then-governor George Wallace in the infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” event. 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.”Only after federalized guard troops arrived, four and a half hours after Mr. Wallace’s initial refusal, were the students admitted.
In November 1963 there were three bomb blasts at the University of Alabama, one of them just four blocks from Vivian Malone Jones’ dormitory. “I decided not to show any fear and went to classes that day,” she said in an interview with The Post Standard of Syracuse in 2004. Out of fear for her safety, the university hired a driver for her, a student at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa named Mack Jones. They later fell in love and married. After graduating from Alabama, Ms. 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.
In 1996, former Governor Wallace presented the Lurleen B. Wallace Award for Courage, named for his late wife, to Ms. Jones. He told her that he made a mistake 33 years earlier and that he admired her. They discussed forgiveness.
The University of Alabama honored Vivian Malone Jones by awarding her a doctorate of humane letters honoris causa during commencement exercises in August, 2000. Mrs. Jones also spoke at that commencement ceremony.