One of the most important figures in Nashville’s history, Vanderbilt University’s history and the history of the Southeastern Conference, Perry Wallace is the subject of an engrossing new biography from Vanderbilt graduate and former associate director of media relations, Andrew Maraniss. The book is available now and is a must-read whether basketball matters to you or not.
Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South tells the story of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the history of the Southeastern Conference, at Vanderbilt from 1967-1970. This definitive biography traces his parents, Perry, Sr. and Hattie’s, move to Nashville in 1928—all the way to the present day showing Perry Eugene Wallace, Jr. as an esteemed law professor at American University where he has been since 1993.
In the pages of this book you follow it all, often with first-person accounts and always with an open honesty not usually found in biographic works. In Strong Inside, you will find no sugar coating. You will find no dancing around of subjects. This book dives straight into the deep end and does not stop until it swims into your heart and your consciousness.
Perry Wallace’s story is one of conscience, of courage, of heart, of adversity, of triumph and ultimate success. His is a story to share with anyone about what it is to persevere—one to use to remind someone of true adversity whenever their will may not be the strongest. It’s for anyone who wishes to understand the meaning of success as it defines a man.
As a Nashville native and someone who grew up watching games at Memorial Gym, Perry Wallace was always someone I knew was important in Vanderbilt basketball history. As I grew older, covering many games there, I learned to understand his greatness as a player. I was there in 2004, when Vanderbilt finally retired his #25. I met the man and had my eyes opened.
But what this book did for me was make me understand Perry Wallace’s importance and greatness, not as a player, but as a man. It opened my eyes to the struggle of the day, one that could never be fully understood by someone too young to have witnessed or lived through that chapter of American history, the 1960s.
Andrew Maraniss captures beautifully through his painting of this ‘picture’ (via lush writing, vintage photographs, and meaningful anecdotes) exactly what Perry Wallace overcame, and also what got the best of him on some days. Strong Inside is a real account. It is not all pretty, and you feel the ups and downs of his amazing journey.
I left it knowing Perry Wallace had far more value to mankind than to basketball. He is not just a basketball hero. He is one of almost immeasurable stature. Perry Wallace was at times a reluctant hero, one who did not sometimes understand himself the importance of his stance on issues—sometimes meaning more than those he displayed on the court. Wallace was often vulnerable, but always impenetrable.
It does not matter if you follow basketball history or Vanderbilt history for you to get the most of this outstanding biography. You need only an understanding and a thirst for the knowledge of human history, of pain, of sacrifice, of healing, of victory to get the most of it. Your life will be richer for having taken the time.
It is of great importance to recognize Perry Wallace further. Memorial Gym is named for the veterans lost at war. The court’s name has been otherwise procured, but something needs to bear this gentleman’s name concerning the program and university he gave so much to and both of whom still owe him today.