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Nashville street named after man who broke SEC basketball's color barrier

Perry Wallace Way
Posted at 1:45 PM, Feb 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-23 14:54:28-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The man credited with breaking the color barrier in SEC basketball now has a Nashville street named in his honor.

The portion of 25th Ave. S. that runs through Vanderbilt University's campus, including right in front of Memorial Gymnasium, was renamed for Perry Wallace, who became the first black basketball player in the SEC when he suited up for Vanderbilt in 1967.

On Saturday city leaders and Vanderbilt officials unveiled the new street signs that pay tribute to the trailblazer. Dozens of people attended the event, which took place, including Wallace's friends, teammates and family members.

"Well, I'm just overwhelmed with emotion," Wallace's sister, Bessie Garrett, said before the ceremony.

Many of the speakers, including Vanderbilt Athletics Director Candice Storey Lee and VU Men's Basketball Coach Jerry Stackhouse, credited Wallace for clearing the way for other black athletes.

"He influenced a lot of young black guys," Bill Ligon said. Ligon was Wallace's Vanderbilt teammate in the late 1960s.

"I spent a lot of time with Perry my first couple years here," Ligon said. "And I remember just the type of person that he was, everything Perry did was excellent."

"Perry, myself, anybody who finished school in the south between '65 and '70, you were in the middle of changes," Ligon continued. For Wallace, those changes meant racist taunts as he played in arenas across the south.

Officials said Saturday's honor is much bigger than a street sign, and hope it will continue Wallace's legacy.

"Even when you talk about Perry Wallace Way, you're not going to be just talking about a street," Storey Lee said. "You're going to be talking a way of life, one of utmost integrity and dedication and courage and humility."

Wallace passed away in 2017. Vanderbilt Basketball retired his jersey in 2004.