Vanderbilt Athletics

Race, sports and Vanderbilt exhibition debuts

Sept. 23, 2016 Photo identification (l to r):  Vice Chancellor George Hill, Vice Chancellor David Williams, author Andrew Maraniss and curator Martin Rapisarda.

Vanderbilt University’s Race, Sports and Vanderbilt: 1966-1970 was formally launched Friday evening, highlighted by an insightful panel discussion led by Vice Chancellors David Williams, Dr. George Hill and author Andrew Maraniss.

The event, sponsored by Vanderbilt’s Fine Arts Gallery, drew an audience that included Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, Perry Wallace’s sister Jessie Wallace Jackson of Memphis and a wide assortment of other university administrators, faculty and members of the public. The three principle speakers each offered their perspectives on the New York Times best-selling Wallace biography, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South before taking questions.

Williams, Vanderbilt’s Director of Athletics and member of the law faculty, pointed out “that without Perry and Godfrey (Dillard, two African Americans who came to Vanderbilt in 1966 as members of the school’s basketball team), I wouldn’t be the athletic director here.”

Williams said the while Perry is credited with breaking the color barrier in Southeastern Conference basketball, “that barrier still hasn’t totally been broken.” The book brought back vivid memories for many attendees, including Williams, an avid reader.

“It was a hard book to read straight through,” he said, “because I needed to come to grips with a lot of things that were included in the text. The book was the beginning for some people to heal.”

Dr. Hill, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, shared that his late wife was a classmate and close friend of Perry at Nashville’s Pearl High School. He pointed to two memorable chapters in the biography, one involving Perry’s meeting with then-chancellor Alexander Heard and the other involved Heard’s meeting with Roy Skinner in which he encouraged the Commodore coach that it would be a splendid idea to integrate his team’s roster. One year later, Skinner successfully recruited Wallace, who had dozens of scholarship opportunities around the nation.

For his part, Maraniss – a Vanderbilt graduate – explained that he did four years of research with over 100 interviews and intensive combing of various archives before he wrote a single word in what would require another four years of writing.

Maraniss, a Texas native, said he first learned of Perry Wallace as a 19-year old Vanderbilt student and wrote a short paper as a class project. Among Andrew’s anecdotes were two stories that changed lives.

“There was a Vanderbilt student from China who told me he read a copy of Strong Inside before he had decided to attend Vanderbilt. He said that showed him if Perry Wallace could make it at Vanderbilt, so could he.” Maraniss also said a young woman once told him that she and her father had read the book together and that produced some of the most meaningful conversations between the two that they had to that date.

The exhibit, in Cohen Hall on the Peabody campus, is curated by Dr. Martin Rapisarda, Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Science. It will remain through December 8. The public is invited to visit; there is no admission fee.
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