Nashville, Tenn. (WKRN)- Vanderbilt University held a special ceremony on Saturday afternoon to honor the late, great basketball star Perry Wallace, as the portion of 25th Avenue between West End Avenue and Blakemore Avenue was honorarily renamed Perry Wallace Way.
The 20-minute ceremony took place right outside Memorial Gymnasium with a large gathering of people, including Perry’s extended family. Current Vanderbilt Men’s head basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse started things off speaking about his appreciation for Perry.
“He was an unbelievable man who had unbelievable courage. It’s with great pride that I take being the head coach here knowing the leadership that it took to step out and help desegregate SEC basketball,” said Stackhouse.
Perry, who started his basketball career in Nashville at Pearl high school, will always be remembered as a trailblazer in athletics and in life. He was the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference and excelled on the academic side as well. His sisters describe what this day means to them.
Bessie Garrett said, “This is a well deserved honor. I appreciate what has been done for him, what intends to be done for him and even greater things still to come. His name and achievements will help improve things here in the city in the nation and all around.”
There is a lot of thought that went into where the university would honor Perry Wallace. Interim vice chancellor for athletics at Vanderbilt had many conversations with Perry before he passed in 2017 and explains why this stretch of road was the perfect fit for honoring him.
“Naming a road after him was important because what he did took such tremendous courage. I think that phrase was, ‘where rubber meets the road,’ and even one of our staff member said you aren’t just going to be talking about a street you’re going to be talking about a way of life, one lived with the upmost integrity and courage,” said Lee.
Wallace graduated in 1970, but it wasn’t until the last 20 years or so that his relationship with the university was rebuilt and repaired— Lee gave credit to former athletic director David Williams for bringing the two together.
“I talked about that reconciliation process starting at that time, and David Williams was a big part of that. We got to start to see more of his family come around, but to see them continue to forge relationships with the university I think is also critically important and a sign that there’s true healing happening here,” added Lee.