More than 500 mourners gave Vivian Malone Jones one last standing
ovation at her funeral Wednesday, honoring the quiet courage of a civil
rights icon who was the first Black student to graduate from the
University of Alabama.
“Her life made a difference in the freedoms that we enjoy in America
today,” Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said at the service, which
focused on the day in 1963 when Jones and James Hood faced off with
then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who made his stand in the
“schoolhouse door” in an attempt to prevent their enrollment.
Hood recalled that day in his remarks at the funeral, saying that when
he told Jones he was scared, she gave him a note that read, “Whatever
adversaries these days, our Father, help us face them with courage.”
Jones, who went on to a long career with the U.S. Justice Department in
Washington and for the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta, died
Oct. 13 after suffering a stroke. She was 63.
A native of Mobile, Ala., Jones was enrolled at historically Black
Alabama A&M University when she transferred to the University of
Alabama in 1963. The move led Wallace to stand at the steps of the
university in defiance of an order to admit Black students. Jones and
Hood, accompanied by then-Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas
Katzenbach, enrolled after Wallace finished his statement.
“Opening the University of Alabama to African-Americans did take
courage and determination,” Katzenbach said at the funeral. “It also
took courage to stick it out for two years to graduation.”
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a longtime civil rights leader who worked
alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said the then 20-year-old
Jones was a “gentle lamb” in front of a “growling lion.”
The funeral was held in the Martin Luther King Jr. Chapel on the
Morehouse College campus. About 20 Morehouse students gathered around
as the casket was placed on a horse-drawn hearse.
“It shows you that one person’s life can make a difference,”
19-year-old sophomore Derrick Johnson said. “You had to stop in some
sort of reverence for her.”
Jones is survived by a son, daughter and grandson. Her husband died last year.
— Associated Press
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