African American Pro Wrestling Pioneers Finally get Justice

The mission of the Women’s Wrestling Hall of Fame is to educate, promote, and preserve the history of Women’s wrestling. It is time African American Pro Wrestling pioneers finally get justice.

There are three categories that are honored each year: Pro Wrestling and amateur wrestling, which includes Olympians, Paralympians, college-level athletes, and coaches.

And non-wrestlers which are reserved for managers, announcers, valets, promotions, and referees. The Women’s Wrestling Hall of Fame was created during Angel Orsini’s quest to finish the documentary Circle of Champions.

African American Pro Wrestling Pioneers Finally get Justice

Numerous women deserved to be inducted into many of this wrestling hall of fames. It is unfair how many of the female wrestlers then were treated. They never had the opportunity to get a merchandise deal, especially during the Vince McMahon reign.

Babs Wingo, Ethel Johnson, and Marva Scott are sisters who became the first African American female pro wrestlers in the 1950s.

Like Jackie Robinson, Babs Wingo was the first female to desegregate women’s professional wrestling. All three sisters were trained by Mildred Burke and later worked for promoter Billy Wolfe.

In 1952, the sisters worked three matches including a tag team match in the main event at Baltimore, Maryland, which drew the highest record crowd of 3,611 fans.

By 1954, Johnson and Wingo received top billing alongside Gorgeous George after drawing 9,000 fans at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri. While touring Latin America, Johnson worked under the name Rita Valdez.

Ethel also made history, becoming the first African American women’s champion. She was a fan favorite, billed as “the biggest attraction to hit girl wrestling since girl wrestling began.”

Johnson was known for her athleticism, being one of the first female wrestlers to perform a standing dropkick in her matches and including a variation of the flying head scissors.

During segregation, Johnson broke many barriers, faced wrestling legends June Byers and Penny Banner, and even challenged Mildred Burke for her NWA World Women’s Championship.

Johnson also worked for Stu Hart’s promotion Big Time Wrestling and wrestling for the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. In her final years in wrestling, Johnson worked at American Wrestling Association, where her last match was against her sister Marva Scott, in 1976.

Wingo, Johnson, and Scott are chronicled in the documentary “Lady Wrestler,” directed by journalist and filmmaker Chris Bourne.

The documentary explores in-depth the impact these three sisters had on pro wrestling. The film is critically acclaimed and is an 82-minute documentary that chronicles the stories of not only Babs Wingo, Ethel Johnson, and Marva Scott but also Ramona Isbell and dozens of other African-American women who braved racism and sexism in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s to succeed in the male-dominated world of professional wrestling.

These courageous women raised families while blazing a trail for female athletes long before many of the breakthroughs of the civil rights and feminist movements.

In honor of Women’s History Month, All three sisters will be inducted into the Women’s Wrestling Hall of Fame (WWHOF) on March 9, 2024, during the OUC-Shoemaker Center during the World Classic Professional Big Time Wrestling event in Chillicothe, Ohio.

The three pioneers were originally supposed to be inducted into the inaugural class last year. However, they decided to wait for a big event in their home state. Also inducted that evening will be legendary NWA pro wrestling valet Baby Doll.

They will join the 2024 inductees, which will also honor amateur wrestling. The inductees include;

  • The first U.S world medalist in freestyle Amateur Wrestling history, Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston
  • Olympic Bronze medalist Clarissa Chun
  • Paralympic silver medalist from Canada, Priscilla Gagné

WWE Hall of Fame inductees

  • Jacquelyn Moore
  • Sherri Martel
  • Robin Smith
  • Wendi Richter & Joyce Grable
  • Lisa Marie Varon
  • Leilani Kai
  • Heidi Lee Morgan
  • Debbie Johnson
  • Candi Devine
  • Vivian Vachon
  • Peggy Lee Leather
  • June Byers
  • Mike McGuirk
  • First female referee in pro wrestling Suzie Tanner
  • Melissa Coates
  • Nicole Bass
  • Baby Doll
  • Francine
  • Missy Hyatt
  • Kristina Laum of ECW, and the Ladies Professional Wrestling Association (LPWA) accepting on their behalf Ken Resnick.

Many have already been pre inducted as seen in this video

WWHOF was founded in 2022, and the first induction was at the ECW arena, inducting WWE Hall of Fame inductees Luna, Madusa, and former WWE women’s champion Jazz. It made international news in Yahoo News seen in this article.

Following tradition, ECW’s First Lady of Pro Wrestling Missy Hyatt, Francine, and Melissa Coates accepted on her behalf ECW legend Sabu.

He will officially be inducted at the legendary ECW arena at Battleground Championship Wrestling “Block Party Meet and Greet” on Friday, April 5, 2024, from 4 pm to 7 pm at the 2300 Arena.

(written in collaboration with Vanessa Marchewka)