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Black History in Pro-Wrestling

This Black History Month, I chose to produce a series of videos highlighting black pro-wrestlers of note.  This production recognizes not only the black stars of pro-wrestling in the United States, but internationally as well.  Black wrestlers from the United States are not the exclusive focus of this video as it seems appropriate to include the work of those from other countries including Canada, Britain, Japan and the Caribbean.  The decision to include biracial stars was important as they experienced challenges based on their race.

The Struggle (1900s-1960s)

Music is “Grass” by Silent Partner  (CC BY 4.0)

This section looks at the parallel struggles of black pro-wrestlers and black athletes.  While Jackie Robinson might not have had any direct contact with pro-wrestling, his legacy certainly did.  Other trailblazers like Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and even Hank Aaron had their ties in to pro-wrestling.  The desegregating of sports and individual successes of black athletes unquestionably influenced pro-wrestling.

Bearcat Wright, Black Butcher Johnson, Earl Maynard, Tiger Conway (Sr.), Bearcat Brown, Shag Thomas, Luther Lindsay, Masambula, Sailor Art Thomas, Bobo Brazil, Sweet Daddy Siki, Johnny Kincaid, Viro Small

Quote from Julian Shabazz (author of “Black Stars of Professional Wrestling”)

Jackie Robinson*; Arthur Wharton; Jack Johnson (Muhammad Ali*); Bill Russell, Ali and Lou Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Wilma Rudolph, Harlem Rens, Hank Aaron*, Rudy Turpin beats Sugar Ray Robinson, Bill Russell*, Jim Brown, Joe Louis* and Lou Thesz

Matt Jewell (Bearcat Brown) headlocks Thesz; Jack Claybourne with a dropkick, Masambula vs. Steve Logan; Wright KOs Bulldog Brower; Thomas overpowers Johnny Barend & Magnificent Maurice; Abdullah the Butcher; Bobo uses the Coco-butt on Buddy Rogers

Jesse Owens at the “Nazi Olympics” in `36; Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the `68 Olympics; Althea Gibson with the Queen after winning at Wimbledon; Owens’ long jump

Bobo drops Fritz Von Erich; Woody Strode’s Boston Crab; Wright and Moose Cholak; Thunderbolt Patterson gives Bob Brown a whip; Dory Dixon’s dropkick; Sweet Daddy Siki

Ernie Ladd; Arman Hussein; Norvell Austin; Linde Caulder; Sonny King

Dr. Harry Edwards quote

The Game (1970s)

Music is “Take That Back” by Silent Partner  (CC BY 4.0)

By the late 1960s, the Black Power movement was gaining momentum and the 1970s saw an explosion of black influence on the arts and entertainment as well as sports.  While racial tension did not subside entirely, the times were clearly changing.  In pro-wrestling, there were a number of black wrestlers who became top stars as both babyfaces and heels.  In Britain, where the population of blacks (many from Africa and the Caribbean) were less, the struggles were still present.  In pro-wrestling, blacks found opportunities, but they were always pigeon-holed as being from a foreign country (even if they had never been there!).  Whether black wrestlers were revolutionizing the pro-wrestling promo or getting it done in the ring, they were changing the dynamics of the game.

Thunderbolt Patterson*, Patterson vs. King Curtis & Bruiser Brody; Tiger Conway Jr.* with Johnny Valentine; Tiger headbutts Gene Anderson and hot-tags Rocky Johnson; Tom “Boogaloo” Shaft*; Tony Atlas & Hulk Hogan confrontation; Ernie Ladd*; Ladd cheap shots Tom Jones; Ladd roughs up Chief Jay Strongbow; Sonny King KOs Buzz Sawyer; Bearcat Wright*; Andre the Giant vs. Bobo Brazil*;

Jackie Pallo headbutts Johnny Kwango; Linde Caulder’s rolling escape; Ironist Clive Myers; Caswell Martin vs. Butcher Bond; Masambula escapes Vic Faulkner; Masambula in his signature garb; more Masa vs. Faulkner; Prince Kumali; Kendo Nagasaki avoids a Kumali headbutt; Cas Martin; Johnny Kincaid* and Dave Bond; the Caribbean Sunshine Boys play dirty with Kung Fu; Honeyboy Zimba; Myers puts down Fit Finlay

The Highs and Lows (1980s)

Music is “Slide” by Silent Partner (CC BY 4.0)

The 1980s saw some harsh racial divisions come about in the United States as the country swung back towards a mainstream conservativism. The meteoric rise of the Junkyard Dog proved to be a game-changer as he headlined in several markets and it opened opportunities for other black babyfaces. There was also an increase in racially charged angles involving blatant racism, same-race racism, miscegenation and allusions to lynching as well as an increase in characters that portrayed stereotypes such as savages and servants, pimps and angry black men.

PYTs (Koko Ware & Norvell Austin*); Iceman King Parsons*; Brickhouse Brown* gets whipped by the Stud Stable; Pez Whatley turns on Jimmy Valiant*; Rufus R. Jones*; Tony Atlas one-ups Ken Patera; Roddy Piper* and Rocky Johnson in the Pit; Dark Journey slaps Michael Hayes; Leroy Brown smacks Sweet Brown Sugar (Skip Young); Porkchop Cash* calls out Rufus; Junkyard Dog* confront Butch Reed; Shaska Whatley decks Nighthawk; Zambuie Express (Kareem Muhammad* and Elijah Akeem) double-team Blackjack Mulligan; Abdullah the Butcher sends Gerry Morrow through a table; Kamala’s debut against Jerry Lawler; Snowman* confronts Dutch Mantel & Tom Prichard; Parsons with the hair cream; Slick*; Koko B. Ware; JYD* and Bill Watts take out the Freebirds; Ric Flair challenges Bad Bad Leroy Brown; Butch Reed calls out Dark Journey for being with Dick Slater; Bad News Allen

The Transcendence (1990s-now)

Music is “Stadium Job” by Silent Partner (CC BY 4.0)

The decline of pro-wrestling in the early 1990s led promotions to increasingly push the envelope.  The USWA and Smoky Mountain ran some of the most racially charged storylines ever, WCW did many things right and were still part of a racial discrimination lawsuit, while the WWF continued to present some head-scratching characters that played off the same old stereotypes.  The new millennium allowed new opportunities and a number of capable black pro-wrestlers were able to be featured strongly.  The greatest success story being that of the Rock who was able to transcend his affiliation with the black militant Nation of Domination and become the biggest star in the company before leaving to become one of the biggest leading men in Hollywood.

Faarooq* calls out racism in the WWF to Vince McMahon*; Kamala & Reverend Slick vs. Papa Shango; Saba Simba; Bad News Brown with a sewer rat; Roddy Piper in blackface; Reverend D-Von asking for money; King Mabel; Ted DiBiase* and Virgil; Mark Henry* and Chyna; Jerry Lawler* and King Cobra*; New Jack* puts D-Von through a table; Gangstas in Smoky Mountain; Snowman* confronts Lawler; Larry Cameron*; Ron “The Truth“ Killings* as NWA Champion; Brian Christopher straps Miss Texas (Jackie) in front of Mr. Corey*, Woman with Doom; Faarooq* says “Damn!” to the delight of the Rock; MVP; Abdullah and Kamala II; Ahmed Johnson gives the Pearl River Plunge to D’Lo Brown on a car; the Headhunters fight one another; Aja Kong’s Kraken on Dynamite Kansai; Scorpio’s 450 Splash; Shelton Benjamin takes out Shawn Michaels; 2 Cold Scorpio with an amazing dive; Benjamin tosses MVP onto Mark Henry and Tony Atlas; Ron Simmons beats Vader for the WCW title; Booker T*; Booker’s entrance; Booker decks Triple H in the bathroom; D’Lo as Euro-Continental champion; K-Kwik jumped by D’Lo; The Godfather* and the Ho Train (including the Big Show’s wife); Teddy Long* and Johnny B. Badd; Jazz* and Jackie; Entrance by the New Day (Kofi Kingston, Xavier Wood & Big E); Rocky Maivia & Rocky Johnson drop the Iron Sheik; Team Bad (Naomi, Sasha Banks & Tamia Snuka); Jay Lethal vs. Tomoaki Honma; Harlem Heat & Sister Sherri come to the ring; Booker drops Marcus Bagwell; Koko B. Ware piledrives Jerry Lawler; Ware* & Mr. Cory; MVP* & Lashley; Lashley spears Samoa Joe; Lashley with the TNA title; Lashley & Donald Trump*; Norman Smiley and Ron Harris;  Black Magic (Smiley) beats La Fiera; Smiley armbars Yoji Anjoh; Aja Kong puts on makeup; Aja rushes Toshiyo Yamada; Kota Ibushi comes face-to-face with Aja; Aja Kong’s salute; Awesome Kong in TNA; Kharma in the WWE; King Booker; Brother Devon* & Booker; Mark Henry* turns on John Cena; Teddy Long* and the Rock; The Rock on various magazine covers and with Barack Obama.