C. Delores Tucker And Vivian Malone Jones

Author Mary Frances Berry talks about the lives of two notable civil rights figures who died this week. C. Delores Tucker may have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Ala., but her notoriety came from trading words with rap artists like Snoop Dogg and Tupac. In 1963, Vivian Malone Jones was one of two black students to enroll at the University of Alabama, where then-Gov. George Wallace stood in defiance inside the schoolhouse door.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now we note the passing of two civil rights pioneers. Longtime civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker passed away on Wednesday in Pennsylvania. She was 78 years old. Tucker marched arm in arm with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma. In recent years, she gained notoriety for her public crusade against gangsta rap.

Ms. C. DELORES TUCKER (Civil Rights Activist): The whole gangsta rap industry I have long said is drug-driven, race-driven and greed-driven. And I'm asking now, all of our people, every group of people, wherever offensive words are said in any context, we should demand that it be stopped, because we don't want negative images, stereotypical images being placed in the minds and hearts of our children. That makes them feel they cannot achieve, that they are hopeless when they're not.

CHIDEYA: And yesterday, Vivian Malone Jones died in Atlanta. On June 11th of 1963, she was one of two black students who arrived to enroll at the segregated University of Alabama. Governor George Wallace took his famous stand in the schoolhouse door to block their integration, forcing federal officials to ensure their enrollment. Vivian Malone Jones recalled her readiness.

Ms. VIVIAN MALONE JONES (Civil Rights Activist): I expected it to go pretty smoothly. Course, I don't think the system was ready for me at that time, but I was ready for them.

CHIDEYA: Jones went on to become the first African-American graduate at the University of Alabama.

Joining us now to talk about the legacy of these two women is University of Pennsylvania history professor Mary Frances Berry.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Professor MARY FRANCES BERRY (University of Pennsylvania): Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So let me ask about each of these women. First of all, what was it like to see Vivian Malone Jones integrate the University of Alabama and then go on to graduate?

Prof. BERRY: It was fantastic because I had happened to be in Alabama when Arthurine Lucy in 1956 got admitted and then was run out after three days because the state would not protect her. And so she never got to really have the experience of going to school and graduating. And to see Malone do it and to be courageous when she did it, and to stand all of the calumny that was heaped upon her and to stay there and just be persistent and to go ahead and graduate, I just thought it was fantastic. She was courageous. She was a heroine.

CHIDEYA: What about C. Delores Tucker? She marched with Reverend King, went on to work in Pennsylvania politics. Some people think that her heated exchanges with Tupac Shakur really overshadowed the work she did in the civil rights movement.

Prof. BERRY: C. Delores should be remembered much earlier when she fought for the right of black women to have influence and not be present--just be present in the Democratic Party in the highest councils of the party. She fought that battle for years and had great partial success. She helped found the National Political Congress of Black Women, which is still operating and functioning magnificently. So she was a person who understood tactics and strategy and could map out. And she was always telling people what they should do, and why haven't they done it yet? So that this late thing with the rap music just came after a long career. And in that, she was partly successful because some of the rap music has gotten a little cleaner, I'd say. But she mostly failed because people like what they like.

CHIDEYA: Finally and briefly, what do you do to keep the legacy of women like these two alive?

Prof. BERRY: We teach people about what they did and we continue with the younger people who are coming along carrying the torch, which many of them are doing magnificently.

CHIDEYA: Mary Frances Berry is the author of the new book, "My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations." Thank you so much for joining us.

Prof. BERRY: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.

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