The late 1960s, now fifty years in the past, remains a period that is recalled with a variety of interpretations—some accurate, some highly selective, some inaccurate—by those who lived through it. The Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery presents Race, Sports and Vanderbilt: 1966–1970, which opens Friday, September 23, in Cohen Memorial Hall and highlights artifacts, photographs, texts, video, and voice—the material culture of this time on Vanderbilt’s campus and in the Nashville community.
The exhibition, curated by Martin Rapisarda, associate dean of the College of Arts and Science, is the gallery’s fifth consecutive collaboration with the Commons Reading. This year’s selection is Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss, which provides the social and cultural context for Vanderbilt in the late sixties. Central to the exhibition is the story of Perry Wallace, a Nashville native who had been the valedictorian at Pearl High School. Maraniss writes that “impressed with Vanderbilt’s engineering department … he chose Vanderbilt in spite of the fact he would be the SEC’s first black player, not because of it.”
An opening reception will be held in the Cohen atrium from 5 to 8 pm in conjunction with Fall for the Arts and Parents’ Weekend. At 6 pm in Cohen 203 there will be a panel discussion moderated by Rapisarda that will feature Maraniss, along with Vice Chancellor for Athletics David Williams and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion George C. Hill.
Race, Sports and Vanderbilt: 1966–1970 seeks to answer the question “How does today’s Vanderbilt differ from the Vanderbilt of 50 years ago, and in what ways is it the same?” With a specific focus on race and sports, the exhibition helps visitors explore these questions in order to illuminate the turbulent 1960s, which was characterized by contradictions and conflict.
Using material from Vanderbilt University Library Special Collections, Vanderbilt Athletics, the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, the Nashville Public Library, and The Tennessean, among other sources, those who lived through the sixties can converse with Vanderbilt students on the civil rights movement as it engaged the Vanderbilt community then. Sports and the racial integration of SEC teams were one way this struggle came to the fore. The exhibition seeks only to provide a glimpse into this history and will concentrate on how it played out on Vanderbilt’s campus, with the goal of providing our campus community and greater Nashville the opportunity to discuss these issues anew in the gallery and at related special events.
On view through December 8, this exhibition is co-sponsored by Vanderbilt Athletics; the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Vanderbilt School of Medicine; the College of Arts and Science, and The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons.
Free and open to the public, the gallery is on the second floor of Cohen Memorial Hall, located at 1220 21st Avenue South on the Peabody College campus. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 11 am-4 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 1–5 pm. Please note that the gallery will be closed October 13-16 for Fall Break and November 19-27 for Thanksgiving Break. For more information, visit the gallery’s website or call 615-322-0605.
Perry Wallace in a game against basketball powerhouse the University of Kentucky, 1970 (Courtesy of Vanderbilt University Athletic Department); and Joseph Mella, curator and director of the Fine Arts Gallery, installing the exhibit