Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Buddy Landel’s friend JYD influenced society

By Rick Morris

On Episode #94 of THE FDH LOUNGE (Wednesdays, 7-10 PM EDT) on, we had the pleasure of interviewing one of the great stars of wrestling’s territorial days, “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel. We’ve had dozens and dozens of interviews in the course of our show’s history, but rarely have we had any thoughts that occurred to us afterwards that we felt would merit a column on the site – let alone two of them.
This one deals with our discussion about Buddy’s close personal friend and a major superstar who took Buddy under his wing when he broke into the business, The Junkyard Dog (Sylvester Ritter).

First of all, I want to mention the great poem that Buddy wrote immediately upon receiving word of JYD’s demise in a 1998 car crash. As a fellow writer, I told him how amazing I thought it was that he was able to summon up the ability to honor him so eloquently right after receiving such jarring and horrible news. His tribute can be read here.

We talked about JYD’s run in the Mid-South territory from about 1980 to 1984, when he was responsible for drawing more money than probably 99% of the wrestlers who have ever laced up a pair of boots. Buddy made an observation to the effect of “he was the only black guy in the world who could have signed autographs at a KKK meeting.” We laughed pretty hard, because it was a great line.

But the more you think about it, the more you realize the accuracy behind it!

JYD was insanely “over” among fans of all races in a Deep South territory about half a generation removed from the worst Jim Crow practices. To this day, there are certainly pockets of “peckerwood country” that contain, shall we say, less-than-evolved racial attitudes.

Given the composition of the wrestling fanbase in such areas, it is almost a certainty that there were fans who spoke words such as these, “You know, I hate how these ni#$%^& are getting so uppity. Somebody needs to put them in their place. By the way, did you see how The Junkyard Dog was beating up on Michael Hayes last week? Man, I would hate to be the Freebirds when JYD gets his hands on all of them!”

And while there were a great many fans who probably never resolved the internal contradiction of looking down on blacks as a whole and revering JYD, there had to be at least some who saw it for what it was. The textbooks teach us about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other influential figures who played public roles in changing the malignant role of racism in society. They do not speak about a charismatic pro wrestler in the Deep South who won the hearts of people with a chain, some funky interviews and matches that struck a deep emotional chord with the audience.

But maybe they should.

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