Perry Wallace

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Perry Wallace is a professor of law at Washington College of Law.[1] He was the first African-American varsity athlete to play basketball under an athletic scholarship in the Southeastern Conference, playing for Vanderbilt University.[2][3] His experiences at Vanderbilt are the subject of the book Strong Inside, by Andrew Maraniss; published in 2014.[4]


Wallace attended Pearl High School in the then segregated Nashville public schools. He helped Pearl High School's basketball team go undefeated and win the team's first integrated basketball state championship. He was a straight-A student, valedictorian of his class and was named a high school All-American athlete.[2][5]

Wallace was recruited by many colleges,[2] and enrolled at Vanderbilt in 1966. He was one of two African-American players who arrived at Vanderbilt that year, but the other, Godfrey Dillard, was injured before he could earn a varsity letter (at the time, freshmen were not eligible to play on NCAA varsity teams), and ultimately transferred to and played at Eastern Michigan.[6] In 1967, Perry became the first black scholarship athlete to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference. However, contrary to widely stated belief, he was not the first black athlete to play in any SEC sport, either with or without a scholarship. The first African American to play any SEC sport was Stephen Martin of Tulane, who attended the school on an academic scholarship and played baseball as a walk-on during the 1966 season (1965–66 school year), which was Tulane's last in the SEC.[7] Because the football season precedes the basketball season within the school year, Kentucky's Nate Northington became the first black scholarship athlete to play in the conference, participating in one game during the Wildcats' 1967 season before suffering a season-ending injury.[8]

Wallace was generally welcomed by his teammates, but traveling with the team was difficult, and Wallace was often threatened from opposing teams with verbal taunts and roughness on the court. He became the first black athlete to complete four years at an SEC school,[6][9] graduating with a degree in engineering in 1970, and was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers.[5] In 1970, he was awarded the Bachelor of Ugliness, a whimsically titled but prestigious student prize.[10] He responded with a press interview in which he described some of the loneliness he had felt on campus throughout the four years, ranging from small slights and the lack of true inclusion by or friendship from well-meaning people to overtly racist professors and racist incidents, such as a demand from the conservative University Church of Christ, located across the street from the campus but not affiliated with it, that he not attend church services there because of his race.[10]

In the following season, basketball teams from Alabama, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia contained black athletes.[3]

He earned his law degree from Columbia University in 1975.[1]

Perry Wallace
Perry Wallace
Jersey Retired


Wallace was a trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice, where he dealt with natural resources and environmental law. In 1992, he was appointed to the Environmental Policy advisory council of the EPA.[11] He became a professor of law at The American University Washington College of Law in 1993, where he specializes in environmental law, corporate law and finance.[12]


  • 2003 - Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame[5]
  • 2004 - Retirement of his Vanderbilt jersey, number 25[6]


  1. ^ a b "Perry Wallace, Professor of Law". Washington College of Law. Retrieved 28 February 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "SEC Trailblazer Perry Wallace Will Speak at Landon". Landon. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b English, Antonya (January 25, 2009). "Former Vanderbilt star Perry Wallace learned to overcome hatred as Southeastern Conference's first black basketball player". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved February 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Patterson, Jim (2014-11-25). "Vanderbilt alum pens biography of the 'Jackie Robinson of the SEC'". Vanderbilt News. Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  5. ^ a b c "Perry Wallace". Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c Carey, Jack (February 19, 2004). "An SEC trailblazer gets his due". USA Today. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  7. ^ Nunez, Tammy (May 15, 2013). "Tulane community mourns death of SEC pioneer Stephen Martin". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved July 13, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Story, Mark (September 27, 2016). "UK reveals sculpture honoring first black football players". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved October 3, 2016. 
  9. ^ The aforementioned Northington, grieving over the death of Kentucky's other African-American signee of 1966, Greg Page, left UK shortly after his injury, transferring to Western Kentucky.[8]
  10. ^ a b Andrew, Maraniss (2014). Strong inside : Perry Wallace and the collision of race and sports in the South. pp. 347–355. ISBN 0826520243. OCLC 894510850. 
  11. ^ "Biography - Wallace" (PDF). Washington College of Law. Retrieved 7 March 2010. 
  12. ^ "CV" (PDF). Washington College of Law. Retrieved 7 March 2010. 

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