Vivian Malone is a key figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. You may not recognize her name, but chances are you’ve seen her picture or heard about the events that made her famous. Vivian was the first black woman to attend the University of Alabama in 1963. The Governor at the time, George Wallace, attempted to block Vivian and another student, James Hood, from enrolling at the university.
Vivian was the daughter of civil rights activists, so it’s not surprising that she had the strength to face down screaming, bigoted crowds to fight for her education. She was involved in her community and worked towards ending racial discrimination for years before that fateful day at the University. She was an excellent student and a member of the National Honor Society,
which selects students based on scholarship, leadership, service and character. She attended the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University where she attained a Bachelor’s degree in Business Education. She wanted to further her education with a degree in accounting, but that program was not available at any of the institutions that permitted black students to attend. This was right on the heels of a plan to desegregate the University of Alabama (at least at one location). Vivian was among approximately two hundred students who applied to the university, but was one of only two that were admitted. This was only after there was threats to her and the safety of her family because of it.
The opposition was fierce and violent, but Vivian persisted. It was with the support of several federal marshals and the word of President John F Kennedy that forced Governor Wallace to relent. Vivian graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management in 1965 and became the first African-American student to graduate from the University of Alabama.
Post-graduation she worked for the Department of Justice a research analyst in the civil rights division. She pursued further education at George Washington University where she got a master’s degree in Public Administration. She became the Director for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs as well as the Director of Environmental Justice for the EPA. She retired in 1996 and passed away in 2005.
She is a world changer who had immense courage and conviction to challenge a society that responded with vitriol to her. She was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement and helped bring the world a little closer to where it’s supposed to be.
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