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Strong Inside : Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South
by Andrew Maraniss


Overview - New York Times Best Seller
2015 RFK Book Awards Special Recognition
2015 Lillian Smith Book Award
2015 AAUP Books Committee "Outstanding" Title

Based on more than eighty interviews, this fast-paced, richly detailed biography of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the SEC, 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.  Read more...


 
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More About Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss
 
 
 
Overview
New York Times Best Seller
2015 RFK Book Awards Special Recognition
2015 Lillian Smith Book Award
2015 AAUP Books Committee "Outstanding" Title

Based on more than eighty interviews, this fast-paced, richly detailed biography of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the SEC, 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."

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780826520234
  • ISBN-10: 0826520235
  • Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
  • Publish Date: December 2014
  • Page Count: 467
  • Dimensions: 10.3 x 7.41 x 1.42 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.34 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Cultural Heritage
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Sports - General
Books > Political Science > Civil Rights

 
BookPage Reviews

Breaking barriers in the SEC

As the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference, Perry Wallace earned plenty of headlines. But few of the articles under those headlines told Wallace’s real story, or described the emotions he felt as he made history almost half a century ago.

Andrew Maraniss, who graduated from Vanderbilt a generation after Wallace and first interviewed him for a black history class, takes readers behind the headlines with a meticulously researched book, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South. The story is told unapologetically from Wallace’s side, but it’s a side that needs to be heard.

As valedictorian of his class at Nashville’s all-black Pearl High School in 1966 and leader of the state champion Pearl Tigers, Wallace was, on the surface, the perfect candidate to integrate the SEC. In many ways, Vanderbilt’s move succeeded, with Wallace starring on the court and, off the court, being chosen for Vanderbilt’s highest honor for a male student.

Unfortunately, the public only saw part of the story. Wallace was the target of vicious verbal abuse on the road and subtle and not-so-subtle racism in Nashville. A day after his graduation, Wallace gave a bombshell newspaper interview in which he described his Vanderbilt years as lonely and unfulfilling. Shortly thereafter, he left his hometown and settled in Washington, D.C., where he has enjoyed a successful career as a law professor.

Maraniss sets Wallace’s story against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Strong Inside is superbly written, hard to put down and fascinating for sports fans and non-sports fans alike.

RELATED CONTENT: Read our Q&A with Andrew Maraniss on Strong Inside.

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews