My original intention here wasn’t just to tell you about some of the pioneering Black female pro wrestlers in history, since a lot of great articles have done this before, but show you! Surely, there’s quite a few widely available clips online that we can see? Lol, no, of course not.
Could I have switched this up to a different kind of article? Sure. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I got obsessed. And so I fell down a rabbit hole of research, combing through article after article and video after video, just trying to catch a glimpse of a brown face — like this video from 1930s France that literally only features a glimpse of a Black woman 11 seconds in.
History is a weird thing, particularly within media. They didn’t have quite the same mind for preservation then as we do now. In the early days of TV, for example, they would often reuse the tapes they recorded episodes on for broadcast, which resulted in countless hours of history lost. It gets even worse when you realize how little actual Black people appeared on screen back then. Knowing all this, I was still surprised at just how difficult it was for me to find footage (and records, even!) of Black female wrestlers prior to the 1990s.
Much has been written about Ethel Johnson, who is credited as being the very first African-American female wrestler. She and her two sisters, Babs Wingo and Marva Scott, all took to the ring and are featured in pretty much the only clip from that time period that you can easily find.
Included in this tag team is Ramona Isabella (sometimes Isabell or Isabel). Searching her name, I found this clip from 1980. Is this the same Ramona? Maybe? Probably? She’d be roughly 40 here, which is definitely not too old to wrestle, so there’s a good chance it’s her.
And then there’s this video from 1969 focusing on “lady wrestlers,” as they were dubbed back then. I mean, that’s definitely a Black woman, but who is she? Is she one of these prime four? Is she someone else? Biggest of shrug emojis.
I also discovered Sandy Parker, a Canadian who worked in the late ’60s and ’70s alongside big names like Rocky Johnson and Bruno Sammartino, as well as in Japan.
In this vast desert of video, Black Venus aka Jean Kirkland is surprisingly well-represented and holds down the early-mid 1980s. The lesser-known (or I should say less talked about?) but no less fantastic Venus is buff and athletic and wrestled with LPWA, AJW, NWA, along with a short stint in the WWF (aka WWE) among others. Perhaps the great 3-letter monolith doesn’t talk about her much since I’ve read she’s one of the people who revealed how terrible the Fabulous Moolah is.
Once you get to the latter part of the ’80s, G.L.O.W. was the easiest way to see women wrestling in the US, thanks to national syndication and positioning after weekend morning cartoons. Surprisingly, the roster was very inclusive but it was marred by racist gimmicks…but that’s a whole other subject for another time. They did only have two* Black wrestlers during the whole run, at least based on the televised episodes: Ebony and Justice. Of the two, Justice has more easily found clips which may be due to her presence on a later season (Season 1 vs Season 4).
*Note: I’m not sure of Big Bad Mama’s background, so I will at least mention her just in case!
There are so many great women around the world who’ve put in the work, wowing audiences and perfecting their craft, but have become largely forgotten. The upcoming documentary Lady Wrestler by Chris Bournea seeks to close some of this knowledge gap. Check out this interview with Bournea on Women’s Wrestling Weekly (featuring two-time Women Wrestling Friends guest TK Trinidad) to learn more!
Any wrestlers you want to add? Let us know and follow us on Twitter!