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Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the…
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Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the…

by Andrew Maraniss

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I guess I will give this stars. This is a good book. It isn't perfect, but it is very interesting & worthwhile. Perry Wallace was the first black basketball player in the SEC. He played at Vanderbilt. The SEC integrated slowly, so he stood alone for a lot of his basketball career. Godfrey Dillard was also recruited to Vanderbilt from Detroit, but Dillard was injured and then not given the opportunity to work his way back to the team. Perry Wallace grew up in Nashville. He was a very strong student and a great jumper on a great high school team. He considered leaving the South but decided to go to Vanderbilt.

This is a long book. It gets a little repetitive because the author is very determined to make the reader understand what Wallace went through. The establishment at Vanderbilt didn't do anything to protect him; there was no awareness of what he faced on trips to the deep south. The campus and student life remained segregated. There was a small group of African American students, including Wallace's best friend from high school & they stuck together. When Wallace got to campus he tried to go to a church near the college & they asked him to leave.

The framing event for the book is one of Wallace's teammates coming to him many years later to apologize for not having been more supportive.

Wallace comes through as an extraordinary man. As a young man, when he graduated & left Vanderbilt he left behind an interview that was published in the newspaper, detailing what he had experienced. Vanderbilt didn't invite him back & he didn't try to go back. But eventually, as Vanderbilt students found his story, and David Williams was hired to be vice chancellor & director of athletics, Vanderbilt brought him back. They retired his number.

Wallace did important civil rights work, and then became a lawyer; now he teaches law at American University. ( )
  franoscar | May 5, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0826520235, Hardcover)

This fast-paced, richly detailed biography, based on more than eighty interviews, digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a more complicated and profound story of sports pioneering than we've come to expect from the genre. Perry Wallace's unusually insightful and honest introspection reveals his inner thoughts throughout his journey.



Wallace entered kindergarten the year that Brown v. Board of Education upended "separate but equal." As a 12-year-old, he sneaked downtown to watch the sit-ins at Nashville's lunch counters. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, Wallace entered high school, and later saw the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. On March 16, 1966, his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee's first integrated state tournament--the same day Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky Wildcats lost to the all-black Texas Western Miners in an iconic NCAA title game.



The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt recruited him, Wallace courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the SEC. His experiences on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be nothing like he ever imagined.



On campus, he encountered the leading civil rights figures of the day, including Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Robert Kennedy—and he led Vanderbilt's small group of black students to a meeting with the university chancellor to push for better treatment.



On the basketball court, he experienced an Ole Miss boycott and the rabid hate of the Mississippi State fans in Starkville. Following his freshman year, the NCAA instituted "the Lew Alcindor rule," which deprived Wallace of his signature move, the slam dunk.



Despite this attempt to limit the influence of a rising tide of black stars, the final basket of Wallace's college career was a cathartic and defiant dunk, and the story Wallace told to the Vanderbilt Human Relations Committee and later The Tennessean was not the simple story of a triumphant trailblazer that many people wanted to hear. Yes, he had gone from hearing racial epithets when he appeared in his dormitory to being voted as the university's most popular student, but, at the risk of being labeled "ungrateful," he spoke truth to power in describing the daily slights and abuses he had overcome and what Martin Luther King had called "the agonizing loneliness of a pioneer."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:34 -0400)

"Strong Inside is the dramatic, untold story of Perry Wallace, a brilliant student and talented athlete who became the first African-American basketball player in the SEC at Vanderbilt University during the tumultuous late 1960s. The fast-paced, richly detailed biography places Wallace's struggles and ultimate success into the larger contexts of civil rights and race relations in the South"--Provided by publisher"--… (more)

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