#MNPSBlackHistory - Perry Wallace, Pearl Alum and Basketball Great

We are a community filled with men and women who made life-long differences in our city and beyond - many of them proud graduates of our Metro Nashville Public Schools. Throughout Black History Month we are sharing stories about people we’ll always remember.

Perry Wallace, Vanderbilt News

Perry Wallace, Vanderbilt News

More than 50 years after he integrated the Southeastern Conference as a brilliant student-athlete at Vanderbilt University, the late civil rights pioneer, Metro Schools graduate and basketball player Perry Wallace was remembered by his alma mater this month when it renamed a portion of 25th Avenue South for him. 

Wallace was born Feb. 19, 1948 in Nashville. He attended the historic Pearl High School during a time when segregation was prevalent in Nashville’s public schools. During his time at Pearl, he led the school’s basketball team to an undefeated 31-0 season and the state championship in Tennessee’s first integrated state tournament in 1966. He was named All-State and All-American and was also named to the All-State Tournament team, as well as team captain. 

Basketball wasn’t the only thing Wallace did well.

2020欧洲杯决赛时间He was the valedictorian of his 1966 graduating class at Pearl. He was heavily recruited by more than 80 collegiate basketball programs but chose to stay in Nashville to attend Vanderbilt University.

2020欧洲杯决赛时间Wallace was one of two African-American players Vanderbilt recruited, but he became the first African-American to play varsity basketball in the SEC in December 1967 after a year on the freshman team. 

Wallace quickly began to experience hostility and racism when he and his Vanderbilt teammates traveled around the South. Due to the team’s integration, the Commodores were often met with protests, name-calling and items were being thrown at Wallace during the games. When the freshman team played against Mississippi State, Wallace and Godfrey Dillard, the team’s other African-American player, faced “eruptions of hate from every direction,” author Andrew Maraniss wrote in the biography Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South

“You had a whole gym full of people just raining down on you,” Wallace said. “It was just awful, and it was the first time I’d ever dealt with this kind of stuff.”


Despite confronting so much adversity, Wallace had an exceptional athletic career and continued to soar academically and athletically at the university. He became the captain of the basketball team, a member of the All-SEC second team and a SEC Sportsman Award recipient. Wallace graduated with his bachelor of engineering degree and was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers but decided not to go the National Basketball Association route. He went on to earn his law degree from Columbia University in 1975. 

Wallace worked for several years as a senior trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice. He served as a professor at Howard University and the University of Baltimore before joining the faculty at American University’s Washington College of Law. He also served as director of the university’s dual JD/MBA program. 

Wallace was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and the following year his basketball jersey was retired by Vanderbilt. He was later inducted into Vanderbilt’s inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008 and was also named an SEC Living Legend and to the Silver Anniversary All-America team by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. 

2020欧洲杯决赛时间 In 2016 Vanderbilt Athletics honored Wallace and other Civil Rights-era pioneers during the university’s inaugural Equality Weekend. 

2020欧洲杯决赛时间Wallace succumbed to cancer and died at the age of 69 in 2017. 

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Perry Wallace, who through quiet strength and courage blazed a trail that still serves as a lesson in resilience and perseverance in the face of incredible obstacles,” former Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said.

Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said at the time: “Perry Wallace competed on the court the same way he lived his life: With an extremely rare blend of courage, strength, skill and grace under fire. We will miss this truly amazing man.” 

Vanderbilt honored Wallace on Feb. 22 by renaming a stretch of 25th Avenue South that runs alongside Memorial Gymnasium, where Wallace made history, and the School of Engineering, where he studied and earned his degree.  

Now, whenever you drive down 25th Avenue South, you will be traveling on Perry Wallace Way. 

 A Fun Extra: A Tribute to Perry Wallace by Waverly-Belmont Students