Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South
Author(s): Andrew Maraniss
New York Times Best Seller
2015 RFK Book Awards Special Recognition
2015 Lillian Smith Book Award
2015 AAUP Books Committee "Outstanding" Title
Based on more than eighty interviews, this fast-paced, richly detailed biography of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the SEC, digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a more complicated and profound story of sports pioneering than we've come to expect from the genre. Perry Wallace's unusually insightful and honest introspection reveals his inner thoughts throughout his journey.
Wallace entered kindergarten the year that Brown v. Board of Education upended "separate but equal." As a 12-year-old, he sneaked downtown to watch the sit-ins at Nashville's lunch counters. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, Wallace entered high school, and later saw the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. On March 16, 1966, his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee's first integrated state tournament--the same day Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky Wildcats lost to the all-black Texas Western Miners in an iconic NCAA title game.
The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt recruited him, Wallace courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the SEC. His experiences on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be nothing like he ever imagined.
On campus, he encountered the leading civil rights figures of the day, including Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Robert Kennedy--and he led Vanderbilt's small group of black students to a meeting with the university chancellor to push for better treatment.
On the basketball court, he experienced an Ole Miss boycott and the rabid hate of the Mississippi State fans in Starkville. Following his freshman year, the NCAA instituted "the Lew Alcindor rule," which deprived Wallace of his signature move, the slam dunk.
Despite this attempt to limit the influence of a rising tide of black stars, the final basket of Wallace's college career was a cathartic and defiant dunk, and the story Wallace told to the Vanderbilt Human Relations Committee and later The Tennessean was not the simple story of a triumphant trailblazer that many people wanted to hear. Yes, he had gone from hearing racial epithets when he appeared in his dormitory to being voted as the university's most popular student, but, at the risk of being labeled "ungrateful," he spoke truth to power in describing the daily slights and abuses he had overcome and what Martin Luther King had called "the agonizing loneliness of a pioneer."
Biography of Author(s)Andrew Maraniss is the New York Times–bestselling author of Strong Inside, the only sports-related book ever to win two prestigious civil rights awards—the Lillian Smith Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Awards Special Recognition Prize. Andrew is a contributor to ESPN's sports and race website, TheUndefeated.com, and helps run Vanderbilt University's Sports & Society Initiative. He also writes nonfiction for young readers.
- "What Perry Wallace accomplished in breaking the color line in the Southeastern Conference has been one of the great untold stories of the last 50 years. Now, thanks to Andrew Maraniss and Professor Wallace, it has become one of the great TOLD stories of the last 50 years with this unforgettable book."
--John Feinstein, author of Foul Trouble and Where Nobody Knows Your Name
- "...thorough and engaging...a long-overdue tribute to this little-known player."
- "Like any great biography, Strong Inside is about more than just its subject. It is a history of Vanderbilt, of Nashville, of the SEC; a history of basketball and Southern sports culture and how they clashed, time and again, with the forces of civil rights that transformed America in the 1960s. Above all it is a meditation on the personal price of progress, about what happens to the people we ask to be racial pioneers, and what we--as whites, as blacks--owe to them in return."
--Clay Risen, Chapter 16 contributor and New York Times editor
- "Andrew Maraniss has written a gripping account of the tortured ordeal suffered by Perry Wallace, the celebrated college basketball star, who, in 1966, as a Vanderbilt Commodore, broke the color barrier in the Southeastern Conference. It is a story of a young black student's courage in the face of taunting abuse from hostile opposing fans--and the dissension that faced him on the Vanderbilt campus."
--John Seigenthaler, Founder, First Amendment Center
- "Andrew Maraniss's father, David, once said, 'History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.' In the case of Perry Wallace, Andrew has done that superbly. He writes with equal ability of race and class, talent and ambition, and the possibilities and limits of each. I did not know Perry Wallace's story. Andrew has brought it to us, and we should be happy he did."
--Howard Bryant, author of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
- "In a magnificently reported, nuanced but raw account of basketball and racism in the South during the 1960s, Andrew Maraniss tells the story of Perry Wallace's struggle, loneliness, perseverance and eventual self-realization. A rare story about physical and intellectual courage that is both shocking and triumphant."
--Bob Woodward, Washington Post associate editor and author
- "I covered basketball during the years Perry Wallace was at Vanderbilt, learning firsthand the stories of so many African American athletes. Many of them were pioneers in one respect or another, but none whom I ever spoke with endured such an experience as did Wallace--as related so thoughtfully and comprehensively in this sensitive biography by Andrew Maraniss. Arthur Ashe entitled his history of the black athlete A Hard Road To Glory. No road could have been harder than Perry Wallace's, no glory more satisfying."
--Frank Deford, NPR, HBO, and Sports Illustrated contributor
- "It is at the dawn of a tumultuous era that Andrew Maraniss sets Strong Inside, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius."
- "With insight into the motivation and maturing of an African American man amid rabid hostility in the age of desegregation, Maraniss presents social and sports historians and interested readers with an engaging tour that exposes the challenges of change in the South and in college sports with the arrival of black athletes center stage in the white world."
- "A dark but finally inspiring story that can now be told in perspective, and Maraniss tells it thoroughly well."
--Roy Blount Jr.
- "...a thoroughly researched and compelling account of Perry Wallace...As much history lesson as biography, Maraniss's account paints a detailed picture of the civil rights movement on several levels: in gymnasiums, on campuses, in Nashville, and across the nation...The combination of sports and sociopolitical history will appeal to both basketball fans and students of civil rights."
- "Nuanced and complex, Strong Inside is an invaluable resource for studying the state of race relations in the US, both past and present...Highly recommended."
- "...powerfully told..."
--New York Times