Starting with the early 50's, 60's television era, let's start with the obvious in Bobo Brazil, Sailor Art Thomas, Dory Dixon and of course a star who'd later reinvent himself as a preening heel after a long babyface run in the person of Sweet Daddy Siki(particularly in Toronto/Tunney and Detroit/Sheik territories). I think Reggie Siki was the first African-American wrestling star to bleach his hair as well for his fully realized very colorful heel gimmick. He'd later give back to the biz forming a long partnership with CAC's Ron Hutchison, helping train and break in future stars and much more. And that's besides being a recognized top music star and performer outside the ring! Although he was better known as a Hollywood film, tv and cowboy star; multiple CAC honoree Woody Strode has to be on this list too. Woody was one of CAC founder Mike Mazurki's best friends with both phoning each other several times a week just to say hello and that they were thinking of one another. Mike had helped his fellow wrestler/actor pal with several film leads besides recommendations for roles he thought Woody would be perfect for.
Luther Lindsay(Luther Jacob Goodall) was one of our first African-American hooker/shooter tough guys who was one of CAC Honoree Stu Hart's favorites(and close friend after Stu put him over in his own ring and yes, that dungeon)working in his classic Stampede territory besides many NWA circuits including Mid-South and most in the PNWest; All Japan, Joint Promotions in Europe and more. Luther worked in the first interracial pro wrestling match in the U.S. facing NWA champ Thesz between 1953-56 in a series of mostly time limit draws. He was also recorded as the first Black challenger to the NWA Title earning Lou's respect in fantastic matches with Lou verbally putting him over to the media. Lou carried a photo of Luther in his wallet until his death and was close pals with many CACers like JJ Dillon, Les Thatcher, Rip Hawk, Ernie Ladd and the Tolos Brothers.
Cases can be made for other international legends like former WWA World Champ Bearcat Wright, Shag Thomas, hooker/shooter, Armand Hussein(babyface in 60's Los Angeles and other circuits), Thunderbolt Patterson(who was the reported template for Dusty Rhodes when he turned face in Eddie Graham's Florida incredible territory after the Pak Song/Gary Hart angle in 1972. "Mr Universe" Earl Maynard(who was a legit legend already in bodybuilding and weight-lifting) is a longtime friend now running a beautiful resort in the Bahamas(he attended CAC after years of my nagging of he and Dan "King Krow" Kroffat) and retold the story of getting called The N Word in parts of Texas, Kansas and other areas while headed to the ring. Just upsetting stuff well beyond Jim Crow garbage in the 50's and even 60's when many territories would only match Black wrestlers with one another. Adding pressure or causing friction would be if another African-American athlete wanted to come into a territory if there already was one there. That person would at times be incensed unfortunately feeling like that person's color was "his" gimmick amidst the tremendous pressure, etc put on them. Which might've been why, back in the day; there was often no more than one Black wrestler in any given territory at a time which is sad but true. Beyond the great work Sputnick Monroe did in first calling out his territories' racial inequality along with refusing to wrestle in Tennessee, etc unless they stopped segregating audiences, he's recognized as a helpful catalyst that eventually allowed fans of all races and creeds to finally intermingle and enjoy wrestling together as a unit. The rest of many other territories would sadly take a long time to catch up.
I'll never forget a 1971 blast from the past undercard superfight rematch when both 1960's Los Angeles-based WWA former champs Destroyer Dick Beyer and yep, Bearcat Wright returned to L.A. after many years away(that's in spite of Cat's famous 60's parking lot Blassie/Gene Lebell standoff) to face one another the last time at the Olympic Auditorium. Fellow CAC historian Steve Yohe won't either. Bearcat, like Sonny King(WWWF tag champ, Detroit and Los Angeles star) and Ernie Ladd went on to have successful managing careers, especially in the southeast when they were close to retirement. One of the most popular Tennessee Nick Gulus' stars I had the honor of photographing ringside in 1973 at a Chattanooga Christmas show was Bearcat Brown, a friend of Wright, King and Ladd. As well as Kansas City and Mid-Atlantic popular star Rufus R Jones who remains one of the most sought-after custom photo t-shirts in all the biz. Impact star Joey Ryan still pays homage to Rufus(and Harley Race) when wearing their 70's trademark throwback trunks in his matches over the years, beginning in top promotions Pro Wrestling Guerrella and APW in the early 2000's.
How about one of wrestling's original kings(and CAC decorated honoree) in the former huge NFL star who publicly said he loved his wrestling career more than his pro football one in Ernie "Big Cat, #99" Ladd?! CAC's first Future Legend honoree was Kurt Angle in 2000 who most say transitioned from one sport to pro wrestling better than anyone. But a case could be made for Ladd who at various points, was taken under his wing by Lou Thesz and others in various gyms. One of the best big men ever of any race, Ladd had classics all over North America with Andre of course plus others like Gene Kiniski, Don Leo Jonathon, Johnny Valentine and more. One of his first title defenses when as a heel he beat John Tolos for my homebase L.A. Lebell territories America's Title in spring of 1972 was against longtime California favorite Bobo Brazil in what was advertised as "a battle of the giants." Ladd both teamed with and wrestled other African-American legends from Rocky Johnson, Earl Maynard to Thunderbolt Patterson(setting up breakups in various places including Detroit and a historic one for CAC honoree Eddie Einhorn's IWA mid 70's promotion that took on both Vince McMahon Sr's WWWF and NWA/Sam Muchnick along the East Coast and South East with syndicated television throughout the U.S. and Canada. Just watch Ladd destroy a debuting Terry(Mecca)Gordy who was nearly his height on IWA tv online.
Few could touch Ladd on the mike during his 1970's prime in my home base Los Angeles territory, his many WWWF and WWF tours, Texas, Florida, Dick the Bruiser's IWA where he was WWA World Tag Champs with Baron Von Rashke facing the 1973 dream team of Bruiser and Bruno Sammartino, wrestling the Sheik, Abby, Firpo and others in Detroit. His mike skills and more are on Youtube display from even some of his San Francisco appearances. He was one of the earliest to have brilliant catchphraises as well on tv like "Mr TV announcer, don't touch me. You're not a doctor or a nurse!"
Ladd even sided with promoter Ann Gunkel in Atlanta and beyond when she fought the NWA office there for some 2 years, often outdrawing promoter Paul Jones(with his brain trust at the time including Bill Watts, Leo Garabaldi, Assassin Tom "Trojan Horse" Renesto who eventually worked his way into Ann's office and others). Bruiser Brody(as did others like Bill Watts who lauded Ernie to the skies later giving him major lead roles in his Mid South territory) told me the outspoken Ladd was an inspiration because Ladd not only stood up for the boys and obviously himself but also stood up to promoters when he felt things weren't right.
Add in Tiger Conway Sr, the pride of Houston Paul Boesch wrestling and beloved global mat star who was like Dick Beyer, Paul Vachon and others; a real heart and soul of CAC attending every year and repeating his vows to wife Inita at a related LIWA Las Vegas meeting that our own Karl Lauer helped officiate. Tiger soon brought his wrestling star son Tiger Jr with him to CAC as well and the latter is best known for his MidAtlantic, his TBS days teaming with Pistol Pez Shaska Whatley plus all over the NWA southwest territories. Tiger proudly would show off his early 1960's Negro World Championship title belt and trophy to anyone visiting his home but at the same time, just the name of it spoke of those times. Tiger will forever be remembered as not just a great athlete and self-made millionaire with his fencing and other businesses but was one of the kindest people in the business, constantly working and donating to help others including helping fund and build schools. Dean Silverstone was also close to Tiger who rarely missed one of Dean's own PNWest Reunions at Dean and Ruth's home right on the water in Isaquah, WA.
At my 1992 Sam Muchnick 3 Day Tribute Weekend In St Louis(which CAC, WWF and WCW helped me with also sending in talent like Kamala/Jim Harris who CAC has helped with his health crisis), Killer Kowalski at one of our day time seminar panels cried as he retold how he used to have to sneak in stars like Woody Strode and Bobo Brazil into his own hotel room after they'd just main-evented at a nearby house show. Just so they'd have a place to sleep. He also would sneak in meals to them as not just hotels, but restaurants also refused to serve this wonderful athletes. It's still heartbreaking remembering when that was the norm but that painful memory is offset by those who did the same, helping out heir fellow wrestlers.
For more on this topic, check out Julian Shabazz(past CAC member)'s book "Black Stars of Professional Wrestling." Stay safe out there everyone. Email: email@example.com if I accidentally left off anyone that's deserving