Vivienne Malone-Mayes grew up in Waco, TX, a highly segregated community in a highly segregated state. She attended a highly segregated high school where she graduated two years early at the age of 16 so she could pursue Mathematics at Fisk University, where she graduated in four years with a bachelor’s’ degree and another two years with a masters’. She worked as a professor at Paul Quinn College and Bishop College.
In 1961, she applied to take additional courses to begin her PhD work at Baylor University – my alma mater – but was rejected explicitly for her race. Required by federal law, the University of Texas admitted her (Baylor is a private university). Though she was admitted, she was not welcomed. “My mathematical isolation was complete,” she noted as she described her experience being the only female and the only African-American in many of her courses*.
Despite these challenges, Malone-Mayes obtained her PhD in 1966 with her thesis A structure problem in asymptotic analysis. Throughout her education she took part in civil rights demonstrations.
After she graduated with her PhD, she became the first full-time African American professor at Baylor University, the institution which had rejected her from taking courses just a few years prior. There she was voted the most outstanding faculty member by the student congress in 1971.
This is an excerpt profiling mathematicians from my forthcoming book. It’ll be in the appendix along with other famous mathematicians and should-be-famous mathematicians.
I say “should-be-famous” because I’d never heard of Malone-Mayes. And I graduated from Baylor University, where she was rejected from taking classes because of her race and later a high profile university professor. I lived in Waco, TX for four years.
Part of the reason I’d never known Malone-Mayes was because of my own stupidity and probably-desired ignorance. But it’s kind of also on the University, isn’t it? I would have liked to have known of the achievements of this incredible woman while I was there. My classmates would have as well.
Why isn’t a fucking building named after Vivienne Malone-Mayes? Again, maybe things have changed since 2008. I’m sure there is a plaque somewhere on campus while I was attending, but I feel such shame for not knowing about Vivienne Malone-Mayes then and up until just a few days ago. I encourage you to look for what mathematical heroes may have been buried in your community. Please share them in the comments so we may unearth this invaluable, generally unspoken history and these amazing men and women.
*Case, Bettye Anne; Leggett, Anne M. (31 May 2016). Complexities: Women in mathematics.