Memories of Marie Malveaux

University's second Black faculty member fondly remembered for her kindness and support

Marie Malveaux celebrates her 90th birthday at St. Kevin’s Church in San Francisco in 2018. Photo courtesy W. Ralph Eubanks

OXFORD, Miss. – Alumni and former administrators of the University of Mississippi are fondly remembering the late Marie Alexandria Malveaux, the university’s second African American faculty member, a caring mentor to all students and a dedicated scholar who sought to build community both on and off campus.

Malveaux, 93, died June 17 in her home in San Francisco after a lengthy illness. A scholar and a humanitarian, she was given a medal of honor by Pope Francis during her 90th birthday party. A memorial mass is scheduled Saturday (July 24) at Saint Kevin’s Church in San Francisco.

Malveaux joined the UM faculty as an assistant professor in 1973, three years after Jeanette Jennings, the first African American faculty member. She taught in the Department of Social Work, did coursework toward a doctorate and was on the tenure track until she left the university in 1976.

Dale Abadie, of Oxford, dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and professor emeritus of history, recalled his interactions with Malveaux during her Ole Miss tenure.

“I first met Ms. Malveaux when we both had offices in Bondurant Hall,” Abadie said. “We often engaged in conversation. I remember her as a kind, gentle person, very affable and openly friendly.”

Several of Malveaux’s former students expressed their feelings about her impact on their lives.

“For Black students at the time, Marie Malveaux and Jeanette Jennings were our lodestars,” said W. Ralph Eubanks, of Washington, D.C., a 1978 UM alumnus who is visiting professor of English and Southern studies and writer in residence in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. “Marie gave red beans and rice parties and invited every Black student on campus.

“These were not only for all of us to connect, but for her to get to know all of us. She was truly a builder of community.”

Eubanks was introduced to Malveaux following a mass at St. John Catholic Church in Oxford.

“When she learned that I was considering converting to Catholicism, she took a special interest in me,” he said. “Although I had been baptized a Methodist, I chose to have a conditional baptism, which required having godparents.

“Of course, there was no question about who those two people would be: Marie, of course, and my best friend and fellow undergraduate, Michael Carollo, who was the one white student at Marie’s parties. Sadly, they are both gone now.”

Dorothye “Dottie” Chapman Reed, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, a 1974 UM alumna, recalls fond memories of her encounters with Malveaux.

“I, like many others, was fascinated by this colorful Afrocentric, turban and dashiki-wearing, sophisticated Black woman,” she said. “Her students came to adore her, and it became a common sight seeing her traipsing across the Lyceum Circle leading a band of students still engaged in rapid discussion.”

Marie Malveaux was featured in The Daily Mississippian in 1973, shortly after she became the second African American professor hired at the university.

Reed said Malveaux’s willingness to work at UM – which was hundreds of miles away from three of her five children in another state – was uncommon in the community.

“This spoke not only to her commitment to teach but also to the sacrifices that surely were involved in being a career woman,” Reed said. “When I met one of her daughters, I could see that same drive, self-confidence and independence in her.”

Another alumnus recalled that Malveaux possessed a strong spiritual center and an unwavering intestinal fortitude.

“Marie didn’t just see her position at the University of Mississippi as a teacher or professor; she saw it as a navigator,” said James L. Hull, a 1975 graduate from Tupelo. “She helped a countless number of students – many in her department, but many from other disciplines – navigate the turbulent waters of racial animus, marginalization and separation.”

Hull said Malveaux brought with her to the university an air and sense of mentoring Black students to not strive for acceptance on a white campus, but to strive for excellence.

“Her few short years at the university cannot adequately convey the powerful presence she brought and left on the campus,” he said. “Fifty years after she had come and left, and now, in her passing, no student who crossed paths with Marie Malveaux – however briefly or fleetingly – will ever forget her.”

Born and raised in Biloxi and Moss Point, Malveaux attended Xavier University from 1946 to 1949 and pledged Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She moved to San Francisco to join her mother and to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work at San Francisco State University in 1951.

Malveaux worked as a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District, a program manager in Bayview Hunters Point and as a social worker with the San Francisco Department of Social Services. As a social worker, she focused on the needs of the elderly. Malveaux studied gerontology at the University of California at Berkeley, earning a master’s degree in 1972.

She is survived by her brother, five children, a niece, two nephews, three grandsons, godchildren and friends. The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to St. Kevin’s Church in honor of Marie Malveaux.