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Celebrating Black History Month: Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes

Posted at 4:09 PM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 22:31:13-05

(KXXV) — This was a history-making week on the Baylor University campus. A statue honoring the first African American professor was unveiled but it reveals more work for the university to go toward equality.

In August of 1961, Vivienne Malone-Mayes got a rejection letter from Baylor where she wanted to take graduate level courses. Already a scholar and mathematician, Malone-Mayes was rejected because of her race.

"Let's go back to the beginning," said Malone-Mayes in a 1987 oral interview with Rebecca Sharpless as part of the Baylor Institute for Oral History.

"Let's do," said Sharpless.

"As far as I know the story goes..." continued Malone-Mayes.

During hours of taped interviews, Malone-Mayes talked about her life and the moment she ran head first into racism as a young child growing up in Waco.

"I went to the wrong fountain and was drinking when my mother grabbed me and pushed me onto the other fountain and I could tell she was quite alarmed and afraid and that's when she explained to me and made me learn the word black and white. Where I wouldn't make that mistake again," said Malone-Mayes in the interview.

You can listen to more here.

Now, a statue stands tall and proud on the third floor of the Sid Richardson building on the Baylor campus. Five years after that 1961 rejection letter, Malone-Mayes became the first African American professor at Baylor after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Texas, another experience where she was met with strife and racism.

"It made her stronger and the struggle that she endured able for her to bear it," said daughter Patsy Mayes-Wheeler.

Patsy says the recognition for her mother's achievements is a long time coming.

"When I think about my mom I think about her being stricken with Lupus and in spite of that she came to school every day and I very rarely heard her complain and it's been an inspiration to me, to get over myself and do my best," said Mayes-Wheeler.

Baylor Journalism Professor Robert Darden was compelled to action when he found Vivienne's grave in Waco's historic Greenwood Cemetery damaged in 2017. He knew the civil rights she fought for and the community she loved, owed her a debt of gratitude.

"This will not stand. We will work harder and harder that we have a representation of African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities so that Baylor becomes a light on a hill instead of apologize that we are not better than we are," said Darden to the crowd at the unveiling ceremony.

Darden says today less than seven percent of Baylor's faculty is African American and just in the last month, the first African American female was named the chair of a department at Baylor.

"I'd like to see Baylor make a concerted effort to recruit minority administrators and faculty and give them more support into the Baylor family," said Darden.

Malone-Mayes, a Waco native, spent a lifetime cultivating community at her beloved New Hope Baptist Church, advocating for civil rights at Waco restaurants and businesses and igniting young minds as a Baylor math professor. As her life is celebrated, the work of Dr. Malone-Mayes continues with the next generation.

"It's been achieved and it can be done again. If my mom were here she'd say just go out there and get it," said Mayes-Wheeler.