GOV. GEORGE C. Wallace was standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama, the last minutes of his rigid resistance against integration evaporating into the steamy afternoon of June 11, 1963. Vivian Malone, a tall, slender black woman from Mobile, was sitting outside in an automobile, reflecting on the armed-camp mood of the Tuscaloosa campus and hoping she would succeed academically.
It seemed like hours but finally Wallace conceded, stepped aside, and Malone and James A. Hood walked in, ending the last segregation of a state university. (The first black student at Alabama, Autherine Lucy, had attended for only three days in 1956.) Before the end of the summer of 1963 Hood dropped out because of nervous strain but Malone finished in 1965, with a B-plus average.
"The experience brought me out of my shell. I began to look beyond just myself. I had been involved in civil rights organizations but I was really isolated," says Vivian Malone Jones, now 35, who was recently named to head the Atlanta-based Voter Education Project.
"That day I was more worried about whether I was going to make it than I was about the verbal abuses. I survived because of the support of others but also because of my personality. I didn't feel I needed a lot of people - I was a loner. But I spon realized you had to be out there. Someone had to do it."
During those months in the spot light, she received hundreds of letters of support in languages she didn't understand. But she chose careers away from the public eye. "It was just the way I wanted to operate," she says.
Nevertheless her jobs have always at least touched on civil rights. After Alabama, she moved to Washington, worked for the Justic Department for one summer, then the labor relations division of the Veterans Administration, then was detailed briefly to the President's Council on Youth Opportunity, and studied at George Washington University.
Since 1968 she has lived in Atlanta with her husband, Mack Jones, a physician, and their two children, continuing to work with the VA, and then for five years with the Environmental Protection Agency. Her involvement with the civil rights movement in the last decade, she says, has also been behind-the-scenes.
Yet the leadership of the Voter Education Project, which has registered 2 million blacks in the South in 15 years, will bring her back into the limelight.
"You do reach the stage when you want to do something a little more. I want to be a mover, I would like to do something to restore the feeling of hope to people," she says. "This opportunity is just like going to the University of Alabama. The opportunity happened and I would be derelict of my responsibilities not to take it."