February 10, 1932 - June 9, 1995
Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes was born in Waco, Texas, February 10, 1932, and died there on June 9, 1995. She leaves a daughter, Ms. Patsyanne Mayes Wheeler of Dallas, and other family members. Memorials can be sent to the Vivienne Lucille Malone-Mayes Scholarship Fund, c/o LaNelle McNamara, 501 Franklin Avenue, Suite 501, Waco, Texas 76701.
An excellent student all her life, Vivienne graduated from (the segregated) A. J. Moore High School in Waco in 1948, only 16 years of age. Starting Fisk University (Nashville) immediately, she earned the BA in 1952, the MA in 1954. It was at Fisk that the friendships began among her, Dr. Charles G. Costley (recently retired from McGill), Dr. L. Joyce Venable Gould (Shaw), Dr. Gloria Conyers Hewitt (Montana), ourselves and others.
At Fisk, she had courses from Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville (Ph. D., Yale, 1949), one of the first two African-American women to receive the Ph. D. in mathematics. Of Dr. Granville, an inspiring and exacting teacher, she wrote: "I believe that it was her presence and influence which account for my pursuit of advanced degrees in mathematics." Of the general atmosphere in which this decision was taken, Vivienne has written in the American Mathematical Monthly (November 1976) and the AWM Newsletter (1975,1988).
It was a hard decision to take, harder to implement. It could not be done all at once. First, she returned to Waco to serve (1954-61) as Chair of the Mathematics Department at Paul Quinn College, operated by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Seeking as always to expand her knowledge, she applied to take some courses at Waco's Baylor University, only to be rejected explicitly on grounds of race (1961).
The University of Texas, already required by federal law to desegregate, had to admit her. It was a lonely and stressful time for her. Writing (1988) in the AWM Newsletter, speaking for all, she was to observe that "it took a faith in scholarship almost beyond measure to endure the stress of earning a Ph. D. degree as a black, female graduate student." But earn it she did, drawing on her vast reserves of courage and determination as well as on her undoubted abilities.
In 1966 she became the fifth African-American woman to receive the Ph. D. in mathematics.
Her thesis, supervised by Dr. Don Edmonson, was entitled "A structure problem in asymptotic analysis." Part of this work was published in the Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society, v. 22 (1969) under a different title [Abstract]. (Later her research interests shifted to summability theory in which she published jointly with Dr. B. E. Rhoades.)
In graduate school she was very much alone. In her first class, she was the only Black, the only woman. Her classmates ignored her completely, even terminating conversations if she came within earshot. She was denied a teaching assistantship, although she was an experienced and excellent teacher. She wrote further:"I could not join my advisor and other classmates to discuss mathematics over coffee at Hilsberg's cafe. ... Hilsberg's would not serve Blacks. Occasionally, I could get snatches of their conversation as they crossed our picket line outside the cafe." She "could not enrol in one professor's class. He did not teach Blacks."
As she commented, "opportunities which would have accelerated my mathematical maturity were withheld."
Overlooking all this, one of her professors, complaining against the civil rights demonstrations, said to her: "If all those out there were like you, hard-working and studious, we wouldn't have any problems." Her reply: "If it hadn't been for those hell-raisers out there, you wouldn't even know me."
Mathematical talent was not enough for success even though Vivienne had this in abundance. It took enormous courage and determination as well. It took all these attributes together to make her the second Black and the first Black woman to get a mathematics Ph. D. from the University of Texas.
Her invited addresses to AWM, published in the Newsletter (v. 5, no. 6, 1975, pp. 4-6; 1988, pp. 8-10) describe not only her own journey but that of the collective of Black women, indeed of all women and all Blacks. Written many years ago, they cast a penetrating light on the past and the present. They are must reading still today--and for everybody.
Surviving all this with her customary strength, good humor and stability, she became in 1966 the first Black faculty member at Baylor University, the institution which had rejected her as a student only five years previously. There she spent the rest of her teaching career, retiring because of ill-health in 1994.
For some years her path was smooth. In 1975 she described it in these words:
"I have never had any complaints about salary or promotions. I have received financial support from the administration for innovative and experimental projects....An additional safeguard of my welfare has been yearly visits by representatives of the [federal] government. They have checked salaries and promotions to determine if I was being subjected to any discrimination. These reports have always been encouraging to me."
She was less satisfied beginning in the 1980s, especially within the Department. There were no longer any visits by federal inspectors. The Reagan-Bush years saw the budgets of the civil rights agencies cut drastically. Inspection visits fell victim. Vivienne felt that this weakened her position and cited several specific complaints.
Throughout the years, good and bad, she maintained a high level of activity in mathematical, community and religious organizations. She was the first Black elected to the Executive Committee of the AWM and served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Mathematicians (oriented toward the Black community in the mathematical world). She was a member of the American Mathematical Society, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and of the Mathematical Association of America, where she was elected Director-at-Large for the Texas section. In addition, she served as Director of the High School Lecture Program for the Texas MAA.
Her dedication to the community at large was just as great. We have already mentioned her anti-racist picketing; her articles situate her academic struggles within the broader anti-racist movement. She served on the Board of Directors for Goodwill Industries, the Board of Directors for Family Counseling and Children, the Texas State Advisory Council for Construction of Community Mental Health Centers, and the Board of Directors of Cerebral Palsy. She was Director (1960-75) of the Youth Choir and Organist at New Hope Baptist Church, establishing there in 1983 the first Boys Verse Choir.
She enjoyed her friends and kept in frequent telephone contact with many, however far-flung. Her poor health did not keep her away from the winter joint mathematics meetings. There she saw a number of her friends and with them often phoned the absentees. Her last winter meeting was in 1993 in San Antonio. This was a particularly joyous reunion. It brought Vivienne together with Gloria Hewitt, the two of us, and, above all, with Evelyn Boyd Granville whom she had not seen in many years but whose inspiration she never forgot. There had been frequent occasions for two or three of us to be together, along with other friends, but this made for a very special occasion which Vivienne enjoyed enormously, as did all. Many snapshots were taken, many happy smiles were to be seen
This was to be our last face to face contact with Vivienne whose poor health, perhaps weakened by the accumulated racist and sexist induced stress of the years, soon worsened. But the telephone calls continued until just a few days before a heart attack claimed her life.
She had made of it a good life. She could well have said with Terence, "Nothing human is alien to me." All her life, to its very end, she was in the struggle to make the path smoother for those who followed. She made her presence in the national mathematics community felt and respected. In the organizations embracing the entire mathematics community she was to be found and heard. In the organizations specifically devoted to the problems of minorities and women, there she was too. With skill, integrity, steadfastness and love she fought racism and sexism her entire life, never yielding to the pressures or problems which beset her path. She leaves a lasting influence. From her life, the world has gained much. In her premature death we have all lost. Inspired by her life, we are bereaved at the loss of a loving and beloved friend.
Photo Credit: Photograph is used with permission of the MAA Committee on Participation of Women and is taken from Winning Women Into Mathematics, published by the Mathematical Association of America, 1991.