I am humbled to be the first speaker in this annual event that will herald the life and legacy of a young woman whose quite courage and determined will forced open the segregated doors at the University of Alabama in 1963.
For years and years Morehouse College and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities through their lecture series, chapel programs and special events have kept the history of our people and America alive. This is a tradition Morehouse College continues by honoring Vivian Malone Jones.
I am sure you know Vivian Malone Jones’ story but as we celebrate the life of Martin King and our newly sworn in President, Barack Hussein Obama, it is worth noting and revisiting the history of her “stand at the schoolhouse door.” We can only imagine what she and James Hood were thinking on that June day and they came face-to face with Alabama Governor George Wallace pledging to deny their entry into the all white university.
History and rumor has it that Governor Wallace’s remarks would be scripted and that he would show a ceremonial defiance to the students entering the college but that he understood he had no legal leg to stand on to deny them admission.
The United States Deputy Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach who escorted the students, had Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood wait in a car to avoid direct confrontation with the Governor after he made his famous, “Stand at the Schoolhouse Door” speech. The governor argued that the federal government had no right to tell Alabama that they needed to desegregate. At the door Governor Wallace said, “I stand before you here today in place of thousands of other Alabamians whose presence would have confronted you had I been derelict and neglected to fulfill the responsibilities of my office.” He continued, “While some few may applaud these acts, millions of Americans will gaze in sorrow upon the situation existing at this great institution of learning.”
Four hours later, the Governor would step aside and on that June day Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood desegregated the University of Alabama.
Many years later, Vivian Malone Jones would say to students that "You must always be ready to seize the moment….sometimes while it may be difficult for us to get through, if we don't leave the proper type of legacy it can be more difficult for others who come behind us."
“Proper type of Legacy”
There is no doubt that Vivian Malone Jones life was a proper type of legacy.
When she entered the University of Alabama, she had already earned a bachelor's degree at Alabama A & M, but it lost its accreditation. So in order to get an accredited degree, she applied to the University of Alabama and was admitted as a junior. The next day Medgar Evers was killed in Mississippi.
Mr. Hood left the university after two months and transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit and graduated with a bachelor's degree, he returned to the University of Alabama for his doctorate in 1997.
Vivian Malone Jones managed to find the fortitude and resolve to complete her studies. She was intent on leaving the proper type of legacy.
Proper type of legacies that we can all learn from
I have been graced with opportunities that I didn't deserve
In this month on January 2009 we are celebrating the legacy of Martin King, the election and inauguration of President Barack Obama and today the legacy of Vivian Malone Jones.
In each case knowing it was their courage, their determination, emotional strength and unwavering faith in God to make a way out of no way, their family's sacrifice and the gift of thousands of known and unnamed soldiers of nonviolence and social justice who paid the price that millions enjoy greater freedom.
Today we live in a new reality, a new era….
One grounded in the revolutionary ideas and actions of those like Vivian Malone and Dr. King.
Today our ideas seem probable and possible
Today is a time to seize the moment
To examine our lives, our dreams and our future
Is our dream big enough, inclusive enough? Are the millions of poor and needy central to the plan? Can our children, homeless, immigrants, sick wait for a national plan that includes them? Are our dreams born of the faith and resolve of Vivian Malone and Martin King? Do our dreams force us to ask the question, have I seized the moment? Or do we celebrate for a day or two and return to the status quo leaving millions locked out, left out and forgotten?
I think not
This Tuesday, President Obama eloquently challenged all of us to, seize the moment.
“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them…………..The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”
Against the backdrop of this historic time in our nation
We are reminded of Vivian Malone Jones….
Vivian Malone Jones didn’t give up or give out. She didn’t put her dreams on hold or wait for an easier option. She took the road less travelled. She seized the moment…
She acted with courage and resolve.
Knowing she was representing all those who had been enslaved, brutalized, denied access to higher education and a prosperous life, who been locked out and knowing she was representing all those for whom her actions would open doors… people like you and me and her brother in law, the nation’s
Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder
Vivian Malone Jones
took the road less travelled though there was pain and hurt and heartache…
Though she didn’t know all the perils ahead… She took the road less travelled.
In her actions as a young woman who dreamed of better opportunities….
there lies the difference in her life…
The impossible became probable and now the new reality.
Young people “seized the moment”
and made all the difference in the November election.
Working in record numbers to register voters, to activate their parents’ generation, to elect their president…..
The Obama administration has launched a website to continue the activism of the campaign… In one day millions have reengaged.
The Martin Luther King National Holiday Committee launched a Service Day a decade or so ago as part of the holiday celebration.
This year with then President elect Obama’s full endorsement and participation over
1 million volunteers performed service to their communities….
As important as the technology age and its instant communication ability.. don’t wait for an invitation to serve your community….
Just as was the case with Vivan Malone Jones and now with our new President….
seize the moment
In this competitive global market,
It will take courage to become the kind of person
Who values commitment equally with compensation.
Who seeks pragmatic fair solutions to issues.
And who offers ideas that benefit others
And not just prosperity
Have the courage of your convictions,
Dare to take risks,
Listen to voices of our ancestors….
When you are on your true path
Your talents, interests and spiritual inclinations are in complete accord
Today in these times of challenge and controversy…
The world needs your leadership and your service
Find a cause or commitment worthy of your service
Volunteer to coach, mentor, or tutor
Because as Morehouse Men you stand on the shoulders of heroes and sheroes so that your shoulders will be strong enough to hold others
Morehouse men……………………….. “seize the moment”