Baylor unveils memorial to Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes, BU’s first black professor
In 1961, when Vivienne Malone-Mayes decided to get her Ph.D. in mathematics, she applied to Baylor — but was rejected because of her race. So instead, she went to the University of Texas. By the time she had completed her doctoral studies there, Baylor had officially integrated — and in a beautiful twist of fate, in 1966 the university hired her as its first black professor.
On Tuesday, Baylor unveiled a long-overdue memorial to this trailblazer: a bronze bust of her likeness, located on the third floor of the Sid Richardson Building, home to Baylor’s Department of Mathematics, in which Malone-Mayes taught for almost three decades. [You can watch the entire 30-minute dedication ceremony via Baylor’s Facebook page.]
It’s an understatement to say that this was a momentous occasion in Baylor history. The room was quite literally overflowing with family, friends, old coworkers and supporters; an overflow area on the floor below was equipped with a live video stream to accommodate the crowd. Guest speakers included Dr. Lance Littlejohn (current chair of Baylor’s mathematics department), President Linda Livingstone, Dr. Howard Rolf (chair of the department for most of Malone-Mayes’ Baylor career), Robert Darden (Baylor journalism professor), Dr. Edray Goins (president of the National Association of Mathematicians), and Patsyanne Wheeler (Malone-Mayes’ daughter).
“Dr. Malone-Mayes has been called a pioneer,” said Rolf. “Now when I was kid, a pioneer was somebody who put their stuff in a covered wagon and went west. For her pioneer journey, what she did was to put her purse in her car, drive to the Baylor campus, walk into Pat Neff Hall, up to the third floor and teach mathematics. Now that doesn’t sound like a very aggressive journey, but in the time and culture of 1966, that was a significant journey.”
Malone-Mayes was absolutely adored by Baylor students for making them fall in love with math. She was even voted Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year just 10 years after she was denied acceptance to Baylor. She was known all over Waco and the Baylor campus for her fiery dedication to justice, serving on several associations dedicated to supporting math education, family, women, children, and mental health.
“She was determined to demonstrate that she was capable and earned the right to be a Baylor faculty member,” Rolf said. “I was not aware of the burden she carried in this role, until she just happened to mention she felt the burden of the entire African-American community on her shoulders. That she viewed that if she failed, it would be viewed as a failure of the whole African-American community. So she was determined to succeed.”
Tuesday’s ceremony was the fruition of a year-and-a-half long effort headed by Darden, who leads Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. He first realized something needed to be done to honor Baylor’s first black professor when he came upon her gravesite in Waco’s Greenwood Cemetery — defaced, her image forced out of the gravestone with a crowbar.
“All I could think was, ‘This could not pass,’” he said.
“If all this is is a bust, and we walk out of here and I walk out of here, then I’ll have wasted a year and a half. But if we see this as what it could be — as a guide, as a goad, as a spur to us — then this will not stand. We will work harder and harder to make sure that we have a representation of the African-Americans and Hispanics and other minorities that we have not done a good job of, so that Baylor University becomes a light on a hill instead of always having to apologize.”
Finally, to Wheeler, Littlejohn presented a seven-page document of all the positive responses Baylor’s math department received from alumni who were inspired by her mother.
“For years, people have asked me ‘What has Baylor done to honor your mom?’” Wheeler said. “And because she had such a humble spirit, I would always say, ‘Oh they’ve been pretty good to her.’ But now I can say Baylor University has stepped up, showed out, and made us proud. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Sic ’em, Dr. Malone-Mayes!
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* 50 influential Baylor women you should know (March 2018)
* Barbara Walker: Social work leader and Baylor’s first female African-American graduate (Feb. 2017)
* Robert Gilbert: Pastor, civil rights leader, and Baylor’s first African-American graduate (Oct. 2016)