Baylor honors first African American professor through new bust sculpture

Professor Robert Darden speaks at the ceremony in which a bust of honorable alumna Vivienne Malone Mayes was presented to the Baylor Mathematics Department. Josh Aguirre | Multimedia Editor

By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer

Baylor honored the life and legacy of Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes, Baylor’s first African American professor, on Tuesday afternoon with an event including guest speakers and the dedication of a new bust sculpture in her honor.

Along with her service as a professor, Dr. Malone-Mayes was also one of the first African American women to receive her Ph.D. in mathematics and served on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Mathematicians. Malone-Mayes’ daughter, Patsy Wheeler, attended and spoke at Tuesday’s event, along with five other guest speakers.

Lance Littlejohn, chair of the department of mathematics at Baylor, opened the event by honoring those who made the event possible and describing the soon-to-be-revealed bust sculpture, which weighs 50 pounds and was created by Utah sculptor DJ Bawden. He also honored the life and accomplishments of Mayes as a pioneer for justice during a time of discrimination.

“This is truly a historic day for Baylor University,” Littlejohn said. “Malone-Mayes had a distinguished career as an educator, researcher, musician, community leader organizer and civil rights leader. She endured countless hardships and racial injustices throughout her life, but each time she was knocked down, she stood taller and stronger.”

Dr. Edray Goins, a professor at Pomona College and the president of the National Association of Mathematicians, also spoke at the event. Goins was recently featured in a New York Times story titled “For a Black Mathematician, What It’s Like to Be the ‘Only One’”, in reference to the fact that African Americans account for less than one percent of students awarded a Ph.D in mathematics.

“In many ways, I can relate with Dr. Malone-Mayes’ experience,” Goins said. “I was fortunate enough to recently be featured in the New York Times where I spoke about my own isolation. It can be debilitating and can cause you to question your own worth, but Dr. Malone-Mayes persisted. She became the first African American math professor at Baylor, the same school that she could not even attend perhaps some 10 years before. But Dr. Malone-Mayes had grit, class and determination that we all should employ.”

Dr. Howard Rolf, math department chairman when Dr. Malone-Mayes served at Baylor, gave words about her impact on the university, as well as current professor Robert Darden, who challenged Baylor to continue striving to lead as an example when it comes to representation and equality on campus.

Before unveiling the bust sculpture, Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone also gave remarks about Dr. Malone-Mayes, and how Baylor will do its best to follow her example in advocating for justice.

“Doing things like this is so important so we can reflect back and acknowledge where we’ve made mistakes, and what we’ve done wrong but also recognize that what was our history doesn’t have to be our future,” Livingstone said. “Even more than the things that Malone-Mayes did was the person that was and the values that she represented. I’m especially touched by her bravery and courage through extremely challenging times — she stood up for what she believed in and did it with pride and grace.”

The bust sculpture of Malone-Mayes, which will be located on the third floor of the Sid Richardson building by the math department, was unveiled by her daughter Patsy Wheeler and Dr. Livingstone following the guest speakers, and Wheeler provided closing remarks on Baylor’s role in honoring her mother’s legacy.

“For years, people have asked me what Baylor has done to honor my mom, but because she had a humble spirit I would always say that they’ve been pretty good to her,” Wheeler said. “Now, I can truly say that Baylor University has stepped up, showed out and made us proud.”