By Dan Harralson
The University of Tennessee unveiled new and permanent tributes to four trailblazers from throughout the storied history of Tennessee football as a kickoff to Neyland Stadium’s year-long centennial celebration.
Tennessee proudly led the way in providing opportunities for Black student-athletes to excel on the Southeastern Conference gridiron. Beginning in the 1960s, Tennessee’s progressive posture on racial equity led to legendary Volunteers recording several history-making firsts.
On Thursday, Sept. 2, larger-than-life bronze statues commemorating Lester McClain, Jackie Walker, Condredge Holloway and Tee Martin were unveiled in the plaza outside Gate 21 at Neyland Stadium.
In the first weeks of Danny White’s tenure as Director of Athletics, he set in motion a plan to honor the contributions of these four lettermen who represent significant “firsts” and forged a path for generations of minority student-athletes to follow in their footsteps on Rocky Top.
Tennessee commissioned noted master sculptor Brian Hanlon, who — over the past several months at his New Jersey studio — meticulously crafted each Vol legend in a unique, game-action pose.
“It’s an honor for this university to be able to permanently recognize the impact of these men in such a powerful way,” White said. “We are proud of what their names represent, and I believe this is a fitting tribute. They carried themselves with strength and grace as they led the way for so many others. I love that our football student-athletes will pass by this installation during every Vol Walk. I hope it serves as a reminder of those who came before them and paved the way for progress.”
A nod to Tennessee Athletics’ innovative and progressive history—which it aims to restore under White’s leadership—the project is one of the first initiatives funded through the My All Campaign.
A dedication ceremony during which the statues were unveiled took place before Tennessee’s football season-opener against Bowling Green. Due to space limitations related to campus transit services in the Gate 21 area (classes are in session that day), attendance for the ceremony was limited, but the event was streamed live on UTsports.com and the Tennessee Athletics YouTube channel.
Lester McClain 1968-70
Wingback Antioch, Tenn.
1968 – Tennessee sophomore wingback Lester McClain—who in 1967 became the program’s first Black player—also made history as the first Black SEC player to score a touchdown when he hauled in his first of two scoring receptions during UT’s 24-7 win at Georgia Tech on Oct. 12, 1968.
“It’s certainly an honor to be remembered and placed into history at the University of Tennessee like this,” McClain said. “It’s a wonderful thing. I hope I can influence many others to come forth and give their very best to the university and continue to make a difference in the world.
“I do regret that my parents are no longer around to be part of the dedication. Dr. Bill Garrett is someone else who would have been very proud. He played a major role in me coming to the university and earning a scholarship. He felt like I could do well, so he stood up and fought for me. I can’t take any credit without remembering him and all he did for me.”
Jackie Walker 1969-71
Linebacker Knoxville, TN
1970 – Knoxville native Jackie Walker earned distinction as the SEC’s first Black football All-American after leading a formidable Tennessee defense as an explosive junior linebacker with a knack for snagging interceptions.
Walker passed away in 2002. He was represented by members of his family, including his brother, Marshall, at the Sept. 2 dedication.
“I want to first say that I’m honored to be able to represent the Walker family for Jackie’s statue,” Marshall Walker said. “I believe Jackie would feel it’s a tremendous honor to have a statue on the University of Tennessee campus. None of us ever expected this. I’m ecstatic, proud and happy that (Danny White, Marcus Hilliard) and the rest of the UT staff and coaches saw this as important and found a way to honor these historic University of Tennessee athletes.”
Condredge Holloway 1972-74
Quarterback Huntsville, AL
1972 – With a national TV audience tuned in, Tennessee sophomore Condredge Holloway dazzled during a dominant, 34-3 season-opening victory at Georgia Tech on Sept. 9, 1972, while becoming the first Black player to start at quarterback on an SEC team.
“When I first heard about this, I was pretty shocked,” Holloway said. “It’s a great honor. I’m nothing but grateful. I enjoyed all the things I did there at the University of Tennessee, but a lot of the credit for this honor goes to my teammates.
“Back when I was playing, I never thought about opening doors for players in the future. I just thought about trying to play my best and get along well with my teammates. It’s a team game. There are 11 guys out there (on the football field), and all of us worked together to play well and win.”
Tee Martin 1996-99
Quarterback Mobile, AL
1999 – After guiding Tennessee to an undefeated 1998 season and an SEC Championship, junior Tee Martin made history as the first Black quarterback to lead an SEC team to a National Championship by guiding the Volunteers to a 23-16 triumph over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4, 1999.
“I want to say thank you to the Tennessee athletic department—past and present—for this outstanding honor, “Martin said. “I want this statue to represent those who came before me and opened doors for me at the University of Tennessee—Lester McClain and Condredge Holloway, to name a few. I want to thank my teammates and coaches for their hard work and love during some of the most memorable years in UT football history. I will always love you all. Go Vols!”