Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sputnik Passes On

NPR recently did a great story on renowned Memphis wrestler, Sputnik Monroe, who died a couple of weeks ago. What made Sputnik famous was not just his infamous presence in the ring, but how he used his bad-guy persona to change Jim Crow era segregation in Memphis in the 1950s when the federal government would not. The Downtown Memphis auditorium where this white man wrestled was segregated, with blacks limited to the top balcony; Sputnik started bribing a ticket-counter to accept more black tickets than allotted to the top balcony. When the balcony filled, blacks had to sit in designated white seating and, when promoters didn't complain, the auditorium became desegregated from then on. Sputnik did refuse an invitation to go on one of the Freedom Rides during the Civil Rights Movement, but not because he disagreed with the goal of desegregation. He told nonviolent organizers he would have to refuse because he wasn't a "pacifist," and if someone shot at the passing buses, he would be "coming off with machine guns."

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