Pioneering Black Athlete Perry Wallace No Longer Faces Icy Reception At Vanderbilt
Somewhere between 300 and 400 people stood in line to meet Perry Wallace and author Andrew Maraniss after a discussion of Wallace's experiences in the early days of Vanderbilt's integration. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Pioneering Black Athlete Perry Wallace No Longer Faces Icy Reception At Vanderbilt

Somewhere between 300 and 400 people stood in line to meet Perry Wallace and author Andrew Maraniss after a discussion of Wallace's experiences in the early days of Vanderbilt's integration. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN
Between 300 and 400 people stood in line to meet Perry Wallace, left, and author Andrew Maraniss after a discussion of Wallace’s experiences in the early days of Vanderbilt’s integration. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

The man who integrated SEC basketball will be honored at Thursday night’s Vanderbilt game. Nashville native Perry Wallace began playing for the university in 1966. And at the time, he angered many at the school for telling the world it was a cold and lonely place for black students.

Wallace was celebrated as a star athlete, but he says teammates offered no support when stands full of people taunted him and opponents physically injured him at away games. In social situations, Wallace says the whites at Vanderbilt pointedly acted as if he wasn’t there at all.

Speaking Wednesday night to an overflow crowd at the Nashville Library, Wallace called the treatment a “profound type of ignoring, because they were ignoring your existence and they were ignoring your very humanity as a person.”

Immediately after finishing his final season in 1970, Wallace detailed Vanderbilt’s racial problems in front-page interview with the Tennessean. After that, Wallace says people who had been icy quickly found their voices, calling him ungrateful and saying they hated him.

Wallace left the city soon after graduation, but says he’s since established a better relationship with Vanderbilt. Another alumnus, Andrew Maraniss, has written a book about Wallace’s experiences — published by the university’s own press.

Nina Cardona

Nina Cardona is WPLN's host for All Things Considered. As a reporter, she covers a wide range of assignments with an emphasis on culture, the arts and local history. A graduate of Converse College, she's lived in Middle Tennessee most of her life.
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