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Vivian Malone Jones, 63; First African American Graduate of the University of Alabama

October 14, 2005|From Times Wire Services

Vivian Malone Jones, one of two black students whose effort to enroll at the University of Alabama led to Gov. George Wallace's 1963 "stand in the schoolhouse door," died Thursday. She was 63.

Jones, who went on to become the first African American to graduate from the school, died at Atlanta Medical Center, where she had been admitted Tuesday after suffering a stroke, said her sister, Sharon Malone.

Her enrollment at the school came during the summer of one of the most violent years in the civil rights movement. Days after she and James Hood enrolled, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot to death in Jackson, Miss. Later that summer, four young black girls were killed in the infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Wallace, who had proclaimed in his inaugural address, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," had campaigned for governor vowing to physically block any efforts by the federal government to integrate the state's all-white schools.

Jones grew up in Mobile. She had enrolled at historically black Alabama A&M University in Huntsville when she transferred to the University of Alabama in 1963. The move led to Wallace's stand in defiance of court orders to admit black students.

At an appearance last year in Mobile, she recalled that she and Hood waited in a car on a very hot day until Wallace read a proclamation.

After Wallace finished his statement and left, Jones and Hood, accompanied by Deputy U.S. Atty. Gen. Nicholas Katzenbach, entered the school and completed their enrollment.

"I was never afraid," Jones said. "I did have some apprehensions in my mind, though, especially having gone to segregated, 'separate but equal' schools."

Jones said her religious beliefs gave her the confidence to persist.

"God was with me," she said.

Earl Holder Jr., a Washington, D.C., attorney, told the Washington Post on Thursday that Jones, his sister-in-law, downplayed the difficulties she endured at the university.

If prodded enough, he said, she might recall the snubs of students who exited classrooms when she entered -- often leaving her, the teacher, the federal marshals assigned to protect her and a few remaining students as the only occupants. She also recalled residents in her dormitory fleeing the bathroom when she came in.

For his part, Hood left the university after a few months but returned in 1995, earning a doctorate in philosophy in 1997.

Now a retired educator living in Madison, Wis., Hood said Jones was a quiet person in public but always provided encouragement to him during the events at Alabama.

"She was a very determined person, probably more so than I was," he said Thursday.

He said an agreement between the White House and Wallace's aides provided that Wallace would step aside after making his statement.

They had already enrolled quietly at the federal courthouse in Birmingham, and all they had to do was pay their fees and leave.

Jones graduated from Alabama in 1964 with a degree in management and went on to work for the Justice Department in Washington as a staff member in the Voter Education Project.

She moved back to Atlanta to work for the Environmental Protection Agency, where she was director of civil rights and urban affairs.

She retired in 1996.

In August 2000, Jones returned to the university to give the commencement address. The school endowed a scholarship fund in her name.

University of Alabama President Robert E. Witt paid tribute to Jones on Thursday, saying she "opened the doors of opportunity for thousands of students. She will be remembered for her courage and grace that inspired young people throughout the world. We pray for strength for her family during this difficult time."

Though Jones was the first black Alabama graduate, she and Hood were not the first to enroll at the school. Autherine Lucy enrolled in 1956, but rioting broke out and her stay there was brief.

At last year's appearance in Mobile, Jones recalled meeting with Wallace in 1996, when the former governor was in frail health. He died in 1998.

"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."

Her husband, Mack Jones, a physician, died in 2004. She is survived by a son, a daughter, three grandchildren and four sisters.

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