Vanderbilt Basketball Players Honored for Integrating the Southeastern Conference (SEC) 50 Years Ago.

Perry+Wallace%2C+playing+for+Vanderbilt+University%2C+blocks+the+shot+of+%27Pistol%27+Pete+Maravich%2C+circa+1970.
Perry Wallace, playing for Vanderbilt University, blocks the shot of 'Pistol' Pete Maravich, circa 1970.

Perry Wallace, playing for Vanderbilt University, blocks the shot of 'Pistol' Pete Maravich, circa 1970.

The Tennessean

The Tennessean

Perry Wallace, playing for Vanderbilt University, blocks the shot of 'Pistol' Pete Maravich, circa 1970.

Holden Carter, Writer

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50 years ago, Perry Wallace became the first African American to ever play basketball for Vanderbilt University and the Southeastern Conference. Another African American, Godfrey Dillard, also joined the team the same year as Wallace, but was sidelined due to a knee injury. Wallace and Dillard, both only 18, faced a great deal of abuse and hatred in the cities of other teams across the South. Wallace made his debut as a Commodore against a SEC foe on December 4th, 1967 at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym. Wallace’s story was immortalized in his biography, “Strong Inside” written by Andrew Marrannis.

Sadly, last Friday Wallace passed away at the age of 69, a day before he and Dillard were to be honored with the Michael L. Slive Award at the SEC Football Championship in Atlanta. Dillard and Wallace (represented by his nephew James) were honored throughout the day. Wallace was an inductee of Vanderbilt’s inaugural Sports Hall of Fame class in 2008 and his number, 25, was retired by the school’s basketball team.

Wallace was born in Nashville, attending Pearl High School (now called Pearl Cohn). He chose Vanderbilt because of opportunity to get a quality education. He became the first African American athlete to complete all four years at a SEC school when he graduated in 1970. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers after finishing his career at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt will be honoring Dillard and Wallace with a variety of activities and events during this academic year to honor the 50th anniversary of the breaking of the basketball color barrier at Vanderbilt and the SEC. These honors include the release of a documentary titled “Triumph: The Untold Story of Perry Wallace.”

The courage and resilience shown by both Wallace and Dillard helped in the process of spreading racial equality throughout the country, especially in the South. They were the trailblazers who stood up against injustices for the betterment of generations to come.

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