Civil Rights and Basketball
Perry Wallace grew up in Nashville, Tennessee at a time when many things were changing in the south. He had a strong family that believed in education and good behavior, and grew up in a black section of town where he was shielded from some of the racial tensions of the time, although he was able to see glimpses of white culture that seemed appealing to him. He excelled academically and on the basketball court, so when the time came for him to go to college, he had a number of scholarship opportunities. At first, going to a school in the north seemed like a good idea, but when he had the chance to study at Vanderbilt, he saw the advantage of being a pioneer. What he did not foresee was that the worst discrimination was not necessarily the name calling, but the polite distance that was prevalent on the campus. There was certainly name calling when it came to his basketball career, and there were many times when he felt threatened and in danger-- times when his teammates and coaches didn't necessarily support or encourage him. With the companionship of very few other black players, Wallace did his best to do his best for his team and for himself.
Wallace graduated from college in 1970. I started kindergarten that year, and never remember black classmates being considered remarkable in any way. Granted, I went to school in Ohio, and there are still many improvements in race relations that could be made, but this book made me realize how close my own school experiences were to this time period.
Framing history within the realm of sports is an excellent choice, and Strong Inside is a must purchase for any middle school or high school library. I foresee a lot of National History Day projects on the first black player to play college basketball in the Southern Conference, and I would love to see a similar book done about Harry Edwards!