Vivian Malone Jones, the 1st Black to graduate from the formerly all-white University of Alabama

Stephen Nartey February 01, 2023
Vivian Malone Jones/Photo credit: African American Registry

On June 11, 1963, Vivian Malone Jones stoked the tempers of segregationists by enrolling in an all-white University of Alabama. But, it was the beginning of a long fight to desegregate an institution that barred the involvement of Blacks in its affairs.

She applied for admission to the University of Alabama because the institution where she studied had lost its accreditation. What that meant was, her certificate would be invalid when it was time to search for a job in a racially segregated state. Authorities of the University of Alabama admitted her as a junior to its School of Commerce and Business administration.

The University of Alabama, according to, was notorious for denying Black students on grounds that they could not guarantee their safety. A classical case was that of Autherine Lucy, an African-American woman who gained admission to its library science program. She lasted only three days in the school following harassment and intimidation from a mob of antagonistic students who made life unbearable for her. The school expelled her on the grounds that they did not want to have any casualties on their hands.

Some Black students also made an attempt to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi but their presence triggered rioting. The move by Jones was seen as another bold attempt to right the unwritten rule of the all-white university.

She and another Black student called James Hood were accompanied to the University of Alabama on their first day there by Nicholas Katzenbach, deputy of U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

It had to take the federal courts for the school to recognize Jones’ admission with James before registration. The suit was filed by the NAACP, protesting the denial of Black students to enroll in the school.

When Jones, Hood and Katzenbach were trying to make it into the university’s premises, they were forcefully prevented by Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, who was standing at the door. He was against attempts to desegregate schools in the Deep South. He had sworn to ensure that schools remain segregated and made his infamous slogan “Segregation now, segregation forever.”

It had to take the intervention of the National Guard and four and half hours to get Jones and Hood registered at the university. With television cameras on, the deputy attorney general asked the governor to step aside to allow the students to go to class.

Jones in the very few days of her enrolment had to be escorted by federal officers to ensure her safety. Hood, who could not stand the frustration, transferred to Wayne State University leaving Jones as the only Black student among a white population of 10,000.

It was a tortuous journey but Jones graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in business management. She was shortly employed by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice. She also worked with the Environmental Protection Agency as its director of civil rights and urban affairs. She also became the agency’s director of environmental justice until her retirement in 1996. Governor Wallace presented the Lurleen B. Wallace Award for Courage to Jones that same year and apologized that he had made a mistake in his actions to deny her access to education. He indicated that he admired her bravery.

Jones was born in 1942 in Mobile, Alabama. She had seven siblings. She had her formal education at a historically black school in Huntsville.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 1, 2023


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