Vanderbilt and the city of Nashville have renamed a seven-block section of 25th Avenue South “Perry Wallace Way” in honor of the first black basketball player in the SEC. Ironically, but appropriately, Wallace wore number 25 at Vanderbilt, which retired his number in 2004.
“Perry Wallace championed inclusion by doing what he loved, and in doing so, he guided Vanderbilt’s future,” said Susan R. Wente, provost and interim chancellor. “We are celebrating Perry as an iconic ‘Vanderbilt Trailblazer’ who made an enduring impact on our campus. . . . I’m proud that our current students regularly read his biography, Strong Inside.”
Starting on West End Avenue, Perry Wallace Way runs through the middle of campus and past Memorial Gym and the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center, named for the late athletic director who helped reconcile Vanderbilt’s relationship with Wallace.
“He changed this city and this university for the better, and we will never forget that,” said interim athletic director Candice Storey Lee. “This street will remind us of Perry Wallace every single day, and that makes me smile.”
Lee and Wente spoke at the February 22 dedication of Perry Wallace Way, attended by more than 200 people, including Wallace’s wife, their daughter, and two of his sisters.
This is the 50th anniversary of Wallace’s final college season and his graduation from Vanderbilt, which continues to hold the SEC lead in honoring initial black athletes.
- Vanderbilt was the first to retire a number of a racial pioneer in 2004, largely because of a push by its students. (Alabama became the second last month by retiring the number worn by basketball player Wendell Hudson, its first black athlete.).
- The NYT-best-selling book Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss has twice been selected as the Commons Reading for first-year Vanderbilt students.
- The university commissioned a documentary film, Triumph: The Untold Story of Perry Wallace, which debuted in 2017 and was shown at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2018.
- That same year Vanderbilt commissioned a painting of Wallace as part of its “Vanderbilt Trailblazers” initiative.
- Last year, an historical marker was placed outside Memorial Gymnasium, explaining the history Wallace made there as a player from 1966 to 1970.
After averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds as a senior, Wallace earned a law degree from Columbia University and was a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice before becoming a law professor. Wallace was on the American University faculty for nearly 30 years before dying in 2017 of cancer.