Perry Wallace

Wallace grabs a rebound
PHOTO: Vanderbilt University


By now you are used to the idea that there are black and white athletes on every college and pro sports team. But it used to be that there were all-white teams and leagues, and all-black teams and leagues.

Perry Wallace
PHOTO: Washington College of Law

As you know, the Southeastern Conference is a big deal in this part of the country, with teams like the University of Tennessee, the University of Georgia, and Auburn University. It wasn’t that long ago that all the players in the Southeastern Conference were white. But this changed in the 1960s.

The first black athlete in the Southeastern Conference was a football player at the University of Kentucky, who didn’t stay on the team for long. But the first high-profile athlete, and the first scholarship basketball player, was Perry Wallace.

Wallace grew up in Nashville and went to Pearl High School (now Pearl-Cohn). He was a star basketball player for Vanderbilt University in Nashville from 1967 until 1970.

A book about Perry Wallace

The Vanderbilt basketball team in 1969 PHOTO: Vanderbilt Special Collections

Wallace had a great career as a college athlete and student, finishing as a second-team all SEC player and graduating with a degree in electrical engineering and engineering mathematics.

Wallace later became a law professor at the Washington College of Law at American University.

He died in 2017.