In honor of Black History Month, we here at Last Word on Pro Wrestling will be conducting a series of articles on pioneers in the world of professional wrestling involving African-Americans (or in some cases, African-Canadian or African-British). In this installment of our series, we look at 60’s star Sweet Georgia Brown, who endured a painful journey in the darkest parts of the industry, but became a part of history as the first African-American woman to hold a singles title in pro wrestling.
South Carolina’s Susie Mae McCoy was a bright eyed girl with dreams of becoming a big time wrestling star when the 19-year old started training with The Fabulous Moolah and her then husband Buddy Lee in 1957. Moolah was one of the biggest female stars in America at the time and had started a stranglehold on booking women within the NWA and other territories following the decline of Billy Wolfe‘s monopoly. Renamed as Sweet Georgia Brown, McCoy made her pro wrestling debut a year later, in 1958, at the age of 20. Sweet Georgia Brown was Moolah’s first African-American student in her school and Moolah and Lee had high hopes for the emerging fad in pro wrestling “Negro Women Wrestlers”.
But despite her fame and rise on the women’s wrestling circuit, Sweet Georgia Brown lived in fear for much of career. At first, it was from the rampant racism of the south – at some venues, she was smuggled in in the trunk of a car so that the KKK or other extremists wouldn’t be tipped off to a black women entering the arenas or hotel rooms.
But sadly, the most real terror was the clear and present danger of her trainer and manager, Moolah and Buddy Lee. Moolah and Lee would take a whopping 25% of their booking fees off the top (sometimes even more), often pocketing much more, leaving the wrestlers with barely enough to survive. In order to secure better booking for herself (or her girls to get better pay for herself), she would systematically prostitute her trainees to other promoters or even wrestlers. Sweet Georgia Brown was not immune to these heinous practices.
But in October of 1963, Sweet Georgia Brown beat blonde haired Nell Stewart for the NWA Texas Women’s title, becoming the first African-American woman to win a singles title. It wasn’t a World title, but it was a major singles title in one of the NWA’s largest territories.
Sweet Georgia Brown, tired and broken from years of abuse and being away from her family, retired in 1972. She passed away from breast cancer in 1989 at the age of 51.