Barrier-breakers: African-Americans who changed the game

When Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, he withstood death threats from racist fans unaccustomed to seeing an African-American compete at such a high level alongside white men. Black competitors in professional wrestling underwent similar hardship, before No. 42 ever buttoned up a jersey. WWE.com spoke with Booker T, Teddy Long, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler to gain insight on some of the more forgotten grapplers who paved the way for Superstars like Kofi Kingston and The Prime Time Players.

Photos of great African-Americans in the ring | Watch barrier-breakers in action

One such competitor was Viro Small who Jim Ross says “was one of the first African-Americans used by promoters.” The former slave gained his freedom after the Civil War and competed under the name Black Sam.

“Based on records that are available, he may have been the first pro wrestling champion of African descent in America, but that’s obviously an arguable point,” Ross admitted. “Either way, he was very, very talented or the white promoters would not have used him. Racial prejudice was still very prevalent at that time.”

Finding sanctuary in the north, primarily in Vermont, Small blazed a trail for future African-American stars to break down barriers in the world of sports-entertainment.

Booker T's Hall of Fame profile | Jim Ross' Hall of Fame profile | Teddy Long's profile