Perry Wallace, the first African-American to receive a scholarship to play basketball at Vanderbilt University and in the Southeastern Conference, died Friday.
After graduating from Pearl High School in 1966 as his class’ valedictorian, he enrolled at Vanderbilt where he would become the first black varsity basketball player in the SEC. After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1970 with a degree in engineering, Wallace was selected in the fifth round of the National Basketball Association draft. However, Wallace never played an NBA game.
Over the years, he received numerous awards for his efforts in integrating the SEC. Since graduation, Wallace received a law degree from Columbia University in New York where he was awarded the Charles Evans Hughes Fellowship and worked as an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department. Perry then went on to be a Professor of Law at the Washington College of Law, American University, in Washington D.C.
He was named to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Vanderbilt retired his No. 25 jersey in 2004, and he was inducted into the university’s inaugural sports hall of fame class in 2011. Father Ryan honored Wallace in 2015 when the high school retired its No. 25 jersey. The ceremony occurred during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Pearl-Father Ryan basketball game, the first desegregated high school basketball game in Nashville.
On Saturday, the Southeastern Conference will honor him among six former athletes with the Michael L. Slive Distinguished Service Award for helping break the conference’s color barrier.