Vivian Malone Jones, 63, one of two African American students who sought to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963 only to find her way blocked by Gov. George C. Wallace, died of a stroke Oct. 13 at the Atlanta Medical Center.
Mrs. Jones, 20 years old that summer, had enrolled at historically black Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. She wanted to transfer to Alabama, she said, so she could study accounting.
"I didn't feel I should sneak in. I didn't feel I should go around the back door," she said in a 2003 interview with National Public Radio. "If [Wallace] were standing in the door, I had every right in the world to face him and to go to school."
Wallace had proclaimed in his inaugural address: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." He had made campaign promises to physically place himself between the schoolhouse and any attempt to integrate Alabama's all-white public schools. When a federal judge ordered that she and James Hood, also 20, be allowed to enroll, the governor had the opportunity he wanted to demonstrate his segregationist bona fides.
The confrontation, as symbolic as it was real, was something of a last stand for the segregationist South that hot June day. It was orchestrated by the governor's office and President John F. Kennedy's White House. Hoping to avoid bloodshed, the president's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, personally negotiated what would happen when the two students sought to enroll.
With a large contingent of national media looking on and with state troopers surrounding the university's Foster Auditorium, the governor, hands clasped behind him, took his position in the doorway. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, flanked by federal marshals, walked up to Wallace and requested that he abide by the federal court order.
Wallace refused, citing the constitutional right of states to operate public schools, colleges and universities. Katzenbach called the president, who federalized the Alabama National Guard. Completing his statement, the governor stepped aside, and the students were allowed to enroll.
Two years later, she became the first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama. Hood left the university after two months but returned in 1995 for doctoral studies, which he completed in 1997.
Vivian Malone Jones was born in Mobile, Ala. In a 2004 interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, she recalled being 12 years old and reading the front-page story in the Mobile newspaper about the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation in public schools.
"I went to my mother and asked her what did that really mean," she said. "I already knew I wanted to go to college. I knew I wanted to major in business. But this put something in your mind that you can really do this."
Eric H. Holder Jr., a Washington attorney, said his sister-in-law invariably downplayed the difficulties she endured at the university. If pressed, however, she might recall how students would get up and exit the classroom when she walked in, leaving her with her teacher, a few remaining students and the federal marshals assigned to protect her. Or she might recall the students in her dormitory scurrying out of the bathroom when she walked in.
"She had very strong beliefs as a Christian," Holder said. "She always credited those beliefs with getting her through what was really a tough time at the University of Alabama."
After receiving a degree in management in 1965, she moved to Washington and joined the U.S. Department of Justice as a staff member of its Voter Education Project.
Shortly afterward, she moved to Atlanta and took a position with the Environmental Protection Agency, where she was director of civil rights and urban affairs. She also helped pioneer the concept of environmental justice at the EPA regional office. She retired in 1996.
She remained active in civil rights and civic and community organizations, including the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta's Ben Hill United Methodist Church and the National Council of Negro Women. Her alma mater endowed a Vivian Malone Jones Scholarship Fund and hung her portrait in the building that houses the College of Commerce and Business Administration.
Her husband, Dr. Mack Jones, died in 2004.
Survivors include two children, Michael A. Jones of Stockbridge, Ga., and Dr. Monica Shareef of Lithonia, Ga.; four sisters, Dr. Sharon Malone of Washington, Margie Tuckson of Minneapolis, Joyce Phillips of Atlanta and Gwen Moseby of Mobile; three brothers, Clint Malone and Charles Malone, both of Dallas, and Elvin Malone of Macon, Ga.; and three grandchildren.
Mrs. Jones had one more meeting with Wallace, in 1996, when the Wallace Family Foundation selected her to receive the first tribute named for the former governor's wife, the Lurleen B. Wallace Award for Courage. At an appearance last year in Mobile, she recalled her conversation with the governor, who 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."