Perry Wallace, a legal scholar who was the first African American to play varsity basketball in the Southeastern Conference, died on December 1 at a hospice facility in Rockville, Maryland. He was 69 years old and had suffered from cancer.
On December 2, 1967, Wallace made history when he played for Vanderbilt University in a game with Southern Methodist University. Two days later, he played in a game against Southeastern Conference rival, Auburn University. Wallace endured verbal abuse from fans and had objects thrown at him from the stands. His story is told in Andrew Maraniss’ best-selling book Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014).
Wallace was a native of Nashville and led his high school team to the state championship. He chose Vanderbilt because he was attracted to its strong academic programs. Wallace graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He was elected captain of the basketball team and was chosen as a second-team all-star in the Southeastern Conference.
After graduation, Wallace earned a law degree at Columbia University. He served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Later, Wallace entered the academic world and served on the faculty of the law schools at Howard University, the University of Baltimore, and American University.
Upon Wallace’s death, Vanderbilt University produced the video that can be seen below.