UT unveils barrier-breaking Black Tennessee Vols statues at Neyland Stadium

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Hours prior to the Vols football season opener Thursday, the University of Tennessee unveiled statues of four history-making Black Tennessee football players to kick off the year-long centennial celebration of Neyland Stadium.

VFLs Lester McClain, Jackie Walker, Condredge Holloway, and Tee Martin are now immortalized with larger-than-life bronze statues to honor their historic firsts as minority athletes at Tennessee and in collegiate athletics.

Lester McClain, the first Black student-athlete at the University of Tennessee who played varsity football from 1968-70, was a keynote speaker at Thursday’s dedication ceremony. “I’m just kind of overwhelmed with the moment,” he began. “I have so many people to thank.”

Lester McClain speaks at the Vols Legends Statues unveiling at Neyland Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (Photo: WATE)

McClain thanked former Vols head coach Doug Dickey “for taking the risk and the chance” with recruiting him all those years ago. McClain shared how his recruitment was also because of another athlete, Albert Davis, who was supposed to be his roommate at UT but went elsewhere, so, “Coach Dickey was stuck with me,” McClain said and the crowd chuckled. “What a wonderful way to get an opportunity. You never know how opportunities work.”

“You’ve not made me any happier than – there’s nothing catching the touchdown pass, winning the game, brings no more happiness than this time in my life, I’m sure in Condredge’s life, Tee, and the family of Jackie,” McClain said. “We will always remember, be thankful to the university for remembering us.”

Also in attendance were Condredge Holloway, who was the first Black starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference; the family of the late Jackie Walker, who was the first Black football All-American in SEC history; and friends representing Tee Martin, who led the Vols to their 1998 championship and became the first Black quarterback in the SEC to win a national title. Martin was unable to attend due to training camp obligations for the Baltimore Ravens, where he is currently the team’s wide receivers coach.

University leaders say the statues are a way to permanently recognize the impact of the four men.

You can view the full dedication ceremony below.

Tennessee opens its season on Thursday at Neyland Stadium against Bowling Green; kickoff is set for 8 p.m.

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