Black History Month and Pro Wrestling
As Black History Month comes to a close, I felt this would be an excellent first article topic. First off, every month should be Black History month, as with any race or gender, the contributions throughout history by all races are enormous and have affected the human race tremendously. As educators, we should be teaching our children more than just the basics of African-American contributors in history, but get to know more than just Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson. Of course we need to know the formers historic contributions, but we should expand our minds to know more than those and open discussions about W.E.B. Du Bois, the Abolitionist Movement, Medgar Evers, etc.
In days before Vince McMahon Jr. and the territorial system, African-Americans have been stereotyped as either the Vaudevillian clown or the militant, angry black man. The promoters never put the World title on a black man for fear fan rioting or the illusion a black man cannot carry a company and represent as a champion. The other stereotype was African-Americans belonged in boxing, while whites were wrestlers. In the early times of pro wrestling, a promoter would not dare to put a white wrestler against a black wrestler, how would the crowd react to a black man pinning a white man.
Wrestlers such as Bobo Brazil, Ernie "the Cat" Ladd, and Abdullah the Butcher were forced to face each other in constant battles. Eventually, something at the time unheard of, Bobo Brazil became one of the most popular wrestlers, white or black, in the industry. Fans wanted to watch Brazil face off against the villainous Shiek, the evil Killer Kowalski, and the feared Dick the Bruiser. The promoters realized the drawing power of African-American wrestlers and the territory promoters would bring in Bobo to face the territories bad guy. Finally, in 1962 Brazil would defeat Buddy Rogers for the N.W.A. World title. The title switch was used as a gauge testing the fans emotions for a black world champion. The title switch is not recognized by the N.W.A., so technically it does not exist. But this crowning achievement would not be tested again until 28 years later, when a black man finally won a world title in pro wrestling.
Bobo Brazil was born Houston Harris in 1924. Originally named Boo Boo Brazil, a promotional typeset error referred to him as BoBo and the name stuck and actually sounded much better.
In today's wrestling environment, the wrestling public does not see race as evident as before and the majority of the white viewing populace does not see a problem with a black world champion or an African American beating up on white wrestler. The audience mostly sees it as one wrestler beating another wrestler. Sometimes a promoter will still use a stereotype for a black wrestler, such as the case of the Gangstas, N.O.D. and Cryme Tyme, but the use is generally used to tell a story or get a wrestler or team over with the fans. The Gangstas were used and were thought of because at the time Gangsta Rap was the music craze, and what better place to showcase a pair of thugs but on Extreme Championship Wrestling?
Why would I take the time to write about an obscure wrestling figure in my first article? Because as I mentioned at the beginning, we need to open our minds to not just the well-known individuals and movements, but also the lesser known people who may have made just a big of an impact but in a different area not really discussed by the general public. Without a Bobo Brazil and Ernie Ladd paving the road for the next generation of African-American wrestlers, the wrestling world may have missed out on Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson winning the W.W.F. Tag Team titles and perhaps it would have taken until the new millennium to finally crown an African-American wrestling's first world champion.
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