New Book Focuses on Race in Sports During the Civil Rights Era

Dec 28, 2015

"Strong Inside" tells the story of Perry Wallace, who became the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference in 1966 playing for Vanderbilt University.

We’re in a racially charged period in the country’s history – going from a high point – the nation’s first African American president –to a low, in the tensions that are mounting over the treatment of black people by some police forces in the country.

It is obviously not the first time race has been a contentious issue in the United States.  Wisconsin native Andrew Maraniss looks back at a little known story from the Civil Rights era in his new book.

"Going to those places...his major concern was was he going to get shot and killed out on the basketball court," says Maraniss.

Strong Inside is the story of Perry Wallace, the first African American to play basketball in the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 1966.  Besides the tension on the court, the book also explores where the country was at that point in time as Wallace attended a Vanderbilt University during the hard transition of the 1960s, and where it has progressed.

Maraniss gives detailed insight into what it was like for Wallace as an athlete, the Civil Rights movement happening around him, race relations in America, and the mental toll and eventual healing he experienced.

"I would contend that [Perry Wallace] is a sports and civil rights figure as important as Jackie Robinson. Just about everybody in America knows a bit about the story of Jackie Robinson, but very few people know anything about Perry Wallce," says Maraniss.

Wisconsin native Andrew Maraniss is the author of Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South.  He’ll talk about the book at Boswell Book Company this evening

Maraniss is the son of another well-known Wisconsin writer, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Maraniss.  Incidentally, Perry Wallace went on to a distinguished career in law and public policy, and now teaches at American University in Washington.