Sputnik Monroe and professional wrestling – their place in the Civil Rights Movement
Grappling with controversial issues is nothing new to wrestling. This Memphis Moment post describes the real-life impact that professional wrestler Sputnik Monroe had in desegregating Ellis Auditorium in the 1950s. Pete Daniel has also written about the role of sports (including pro wrestling) and popular music in breaking through social boundaries – because of their popularity with both European-American and African-American audiences.
This trend to cater to the crowd, and move toward integration, was also apparent at the Quonset Auditorium in Bowling Green, Kentucky which is featured in my documentary, Rovers, Wrestlers and Stars.
Although the Quonset (operating between 1946 and 1959) was never officially integrated it was the first venue in the area to open its doors to both black and white audiences – so that the owners could attract both the black and white communities to their auditorium and make more money that way.
Peoples’ memories of the Quonset include the loosening of segregation, and a tolerance for racial mingling at music and wrestling events, having entered the venue through separate doors according to Jim Crow policy .
Even though business sense and capitalism are not often thought of when it comes to the shift towards Civil Rights in the USA, the history of wrestling shows us that popular entertainment and the quest for the mighty buck did in fact play a role.