Examining the era when “Vandy woke up”

This fall, the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery presents RACE, SPORTS, AND VANDERBILT: 1966 -1970, which will showcase photographs, front pages from The Tennessean, and related artifacts from this time period. The gallery is located on the second floor of Cohen Memorial Hall, Peabody Campus, 1220 21st Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee.

The exhibition is curated by Martin Rapisarda, associate dean of the College of Arts and Science, and is the gallery’s fifth consecutive linkage to the Ingram Commons reading, which in 2016 is Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss. An opening reception will take place on Friday, September 23 from 5 to 8 p.m. in conjunction with Fall for the Arts and Parents’ Weekend. Concurrently, at 6 p.m., a panel discussion moderated by exhibition curator, Martin Rapisarda, will feature Andrew Maraniss, along with David Williams, Vice Chancellor for Athletics, and Dr. George Hill, Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The reception and exhibition are free and open to the public. The exhibition will be on view through December 8,2016. The Fine Arts Gallery is located in Cohen Memorial Hall, 1220 21st Avenue South, on the western edge of the Peabody College campus. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Weekends 1-5 p.m. Please note that the gallery will be closed October 13-16 for Fall Break and November 19-27 for Thanksgiving Break.

RACE, SPORTS, AND VANDERBILT: 1966 -1970 seeks to answer the question, “How does today’s Vanderbilt differ from the Vanderbilt of fifty years ago, and in what ways is it the same?” with a specific focus on race and sports. The exhibition helps visitors explore this question in order to illuminate this turbulent time, characterized by contradictions and conflict. Central to the exhibition is the story of Perry Wallace, a native of Nashville who had been the valedictorian at Pearl High School. Maraniss writes that, “impressed with Vanderbilt’s Engineering department. .. he chose Vanderbilt in spite of the fact he would be the SEC’s first black player, not because of it.”

Using Strong Inside and the story of Perry Wallace as its starting point, the exhibition examines the wider context of many issues with which Vanderbilt in particular, and the country as a whole, were struggling. The 1967 Commodore Vearbook included a section titled “The Year Vandy Woke Up.” Martin Rapisarda, the exhibition curator, observed that “the late sixties was the period Vanderbilt began to wake up, spurred in large part by Chancellor Alexander Heard’s leadership in promoting the increased integration of the university and the student body’s engagement with current issues through the Impact Symposium series.” The Impact Symposium series at Vanderbilt began in 1964 when a group of students saw the need to increase the campus’s exposure to current issues by providing a forum in which intellectually challengingand sometimes controversial-speakers could be heard. These years saw the first African American basketball players at Vanderbilt and in the SEC; it was also when Levi Watkins, Jr., became the first African American to enter the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. In 1967, Walter R. Murray founded the Afro-American Association, and, in 1970, he became the university’s first African American on the Board of Trust. Soon after, Bishop Joseph A. Johnson, the first African American to be admitted to Vanderbilt (in 1953) and the first African American to earn a doctorate at Vanderbilt (1958), became the second African American to serve on the Board of Trust. But, as the Maraniss text describes in detail, these and many other developments did not occur easily or without a price. For many on campus at that time, they had to be strong outside as well as strong inside.

‘Included in the exhibition are:

• Historical photographs from Vanderbilt University Special Collections, Vanderbilt Athletics, the Nashville Banner, and The Tennessean Select front pages of The Tennessean from 1966-1970

• Video oral history interviews and video clips of speeches made at Impact Symposia, including one by Martin Luther King, Jr.

• Vanderbilt publications from the era, including The Commodore yearbook, Co-Ed handbook, and Impact Symposium magazines

• A basketball rim torn down as the result of repeated slam dunks at the state championship game won by Pearl High School when Perry Wallace was on the team