Cover image for Strong inside : Perry Wallace and the collision of race and sports in the South
Strong inside : Perry Wallace and the collision of race and sports in the South
Maraniss, Andrew, author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Nashville : Vanderbilt University Press, [2014]
Physical Description:
x, 467 pages : illustrations ; 27 cm
The "untold story of Perry Wallace, a brilliant student and talented athlete who became the first African-American basketball player in the SEC at Vanderbilt University during the tumultuous late 1960s. The [book] places Wallace's struggles and ultimate success into the larger contexts of civil rights and race relations in the South"--Provided by publisher.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV884.W29 M37 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
GV884.W29 M37 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GV884.W29 M37 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
GV884.W29 M37 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
GV884.W29 M37 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



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."

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Maraniss, a Vanderbilt graduate and son of author David Maraniss, presents a thoroughly researched and compelling account of Perry Wallace, the first African American to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Wallace did not set out to be a pioneer when he accepted a scholarship to play basketball at Vanderbilt in 1966. The Nashville native looked to basketball as a vehicle for a first-class education. He suffered verbal and physical abuse on the court and isolation on a campus that accepted black students but didn't comprehend the complexities of integration. As much history lesson as biography, Maraniss' account paints a detailed picture of the civil rights movement on several levels: in gymnasiums, on campuses, in Nashville, and across the nation. Amid the chaos of the late 1960s, Wallace grows from an intellectual athlete who quietly endured, to an eloquent and determined advocate for true integration on Vanderbilt's campus. The combination of sports and sociopolitical history will appeal to both basketball fans and students of civil rights.--Clark, Craig Copyright 2014 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Perry Wallace became the first black basketball player in the Southeastern Conference when he joined Vanderbilt's varsity team in 1967. (LJ 11/15/14) (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Perry Wallace played basketball for Vanderbilt Univ. in the 1960s and rose to prominence as the first African American basketball player to integrate the Southeast Conference, an athletic conference that, in historical hindsight, became known for resisting integration. In this compelling account of Wallace's time at Vanderbilt, Marannis offers no tidy answers regarding racism and the challenges of integration in the US. What he does provide is insight into the wear and tear on the body, psyche, and soul of an open-hearted young man creating a path through previously all-white athletic, educational, political, and social echelons under intense scrutiny and in the pressurized atmosphere of race relations of the era. The book is based on countless interviews with Wallace (who now teaches law at Washington College of Law), his former classmates and teammates, coaches and professors, and family members. Wallace's story, too long waiting to be told, provides the substance that allows one to reflect on the price paid by African American students who went first through the gauntlet of segregated school systems en route to integration in US schools. Nuanced and complex, Strong Inside is an invaluable resource for studying the state of race relations in the US, both past and present. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. --Ellen J. Staurowsky, Drexel University