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>>caption: BOBO BRAZIL<<
February, designated as "Black
History Month" has many different
meanings for many diverse people.
The celebration is an outgrowth
of "Negro History Week" which was
first observed in 1926.
The second week of February was chosen by African-American historian
Carter G. Woodson, a Virginia native educated at both Chicago University
and Harvard, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History
because it coincided with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln on February
12TH and of Frederick Douglass on February 14TH.
Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the
Black United Students at Ohio's Kent State University in February 1969.
The first celebration place at Kent State one year later in 1970.
A half dozen years later Black History Month was being celebrated
all across the United States by educational institutions and centers of
Black culture and community centers.
Michigan native President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month
during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976. Ford
urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected
accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout
Since then Black History Month has been recognized by the United Kingdom
in 1987, Canada in 1995 and most recently by the Netherlands and Germany.
The U.K. and Holland observe the month in October. Curiously, Canada is the
only country to officially give the designation formal adoption by action in
Parliament, first by the House of Commons in 1995 and unanimously by the
Senate in 2008.
Out of the ashes of the 1967 Detroit Riots an evolution of change came
to both the city and the State of Michigan.
In 1969 Coleman A. Young was elected as Detroit's first African-American
Mayor and maintained a death grip on the position for 20 years. While he
rankled white suburbanites by telling them to "Hit 8 Mile" he was much more
fiscally responsible than his critics alleged. The polarizing Detroit Police
Department gradually began to reflect the racial make-up of the city.
Accountant Richard H. Austin represented Wayne County's 6th District
at the 1962 Michigan Constitutional Convention, lost bids for U.S. Congress
to John Conyers in 1966 and Detroit Mayor to Young in 1969, but became
the first African American to hold a statewide elected position in Michigan.
Austin served as the Michigan Secretary of State from 1971 to 1995 following
his November, 1970 election. During his tenure Austin supported the enactment
of laws mandating use of seatbelts and child safety seats.
Acceptance of political change could not have come without increased racial
harmony. Much of that softening of feelings came about through sports.
The 1968 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers are widely credited with
helping the city heal in the aftermath of the '67 Riot. We cheered for Al Kaline,
Bill Freehan, Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich, but also for homegrown Willie
Horton, Gates Brown and Earl Wilson. It was a strange turnabout for a team
which had been next-to-last in Major League Baseball to integrate.
Horton had gone to the scene of the riot breakout in his Tiger uniform
to, unsuccessfully, calm the situation. Brown was a former convict who
helped community causes. Wilson was a big, proud man, the first African-
American star of the Boston Red Sox which was the last MLB team to integrate,
and was happy to escape the racist organization when traded to Detroit in
The NFL Detroit Lions gave us stars such as HoFamer Lem Barney and
"Superstar" Mel Farr to cheer for.
The NBA Detroit Pistons had the dynamic duo of (future Mayor) Dave Bing
and Bob Lanier and a successful African-American coach in former player
However, DID YOU KNOW as popular as all these sports standouts was
a man named Houston Harris, AKA professional wrestler Bobo Brazil?
Harris was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on 7/10/1924. He later lived in
East St. Louis, Illinois, and Benton Harbor, Michigan. He played baseball in
the Negro Leagues for The House of David.
A steel mill worker, Harris met legendary wrestler Joe Savoldi, who trained
the 6-foot-6 strongman to become a pro grappler. Savoldi dubbed Harris BuBu
Brazil, sometimes spelled Boo-Boo, and Harris began a 43-year squared circle
career in 1951. Along the way some promoter misspelled his name as Bobo
on a poster and it stuck.
Matched against fellow black wrestlers in the 1950s, Brazil broke down
racial barriers when wrestling fans recognized his ability and wanted to see
him take on top competition. Brazil was viewed by television fans throughout
the country on the Dumont Network shows produced live on WGN-TV by NWA
Chicago promoter Fred Kohler at the Marigold Arena.
Brazil beat 6-foot-7 "German Giant" Hans Hermann when both ignored
Indiana law forbidding "white and colored" wrestlers from competing with
each other around 1960. (Hermann was actually born in Germany but raised
in Boston, MASS and served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.)
On 10/9/1970, Brazil and El Mongol teamed to defeat Mr. Ito and The
Great Ota in the first racially mixed match in Atlanta, GA history.
Brazil was billed as the "Negro World Hwt Champion" in Hawaii in 1957,
in Georgia and Florida in 1963 and in Lansing, MI & Bridgeport, CT as late
Brazil made history on 10/18/1962 in Newark, NJ when he became the
first African-American to win the coveted National Wrestling Alliance World
Heavyweight Championship, the most respected pro wrestling title in the
world, by defeating "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. However, Brazil did not
win by pinfall or submission. The bout was stopped because Rogers claimed
a groin injury. Promoters awarded Brazil the title the next day after doctors
had found nothing wrong with Rogers. Because Rogers didn't quit or get
pinned this title change was not recognized by the NWA. In order to calm
protests by wrestling fans, a story was floated that the sportsmanlike Brazil
declined to accept the belt under such cloudy circumstances.
It should be noted this was the first of two times the cowardly Rogers
faked injury to keep his championship. On 11/21/1962 a Killer Kowalski vs
Rogers match in Montreal, PQ, Canada was halted due to a "broken ankle."
Finally, on 1/24/1963 in Toronto, ON, Canada Lou Thesz beat Rogers for the
belt when Rogers fled the ring after getting pinned in one fall. (Title bouts
in those days were usually two-of-three falls.) Rogers lost the WWWF version
of the world title on 5/17/1963 to Bruno Sammartino at Madison Square Garden
when he submitted to Bruno's bearhug in just 48-seconds and shortly thereafter
Although he starred from Madison Square Garden, NYC to Tokyo, Japan,
Brazil's greatest fame came at Downtown Detroit's Cobo Arena, ironically
named for perhaps most racist Mayor Albert E. Cobo because it was built
shortly after Cobo's death in office on 9/12/1957 at age 63. A longtime
Detroit City Treasurer, Cobo won his first of three terms as Mayor in 1949
campaigning against the "Negro invasion" of white neighborhoods.
Bobo at Cobo headlined wrestling cards throughout the 1960s and 70s,
often sellouts vs his arch enemy The Sheik.
Sheik was also pro wrestling promoter Ed Farhat, who ran the NWA
Detroit territory from 1964--1980. The Sheik and Brazil carried their
bloody feud worldwide into the 1990s when both could barely walk to
the ring due to lower body injuries.
Of Lebanese ancestry, Farhat was also sensitive to racial prejudice
because of his experience at both Michigan State University and in the
US Military. Fighting Brazil during a tour of Texas, Farhat took note
of the arena chickenwire fence that segregated black fans from their
white counterparts. Before the bout began the wild Sheik, in character
as always, climbed the fence and tore it down.
While Lord Athol Layton, Tex McKenzie, Luis Martinez, Mark Lewin
and Flying Fred Curry were fan favorites of Cobo fans, it was Brazil who
drew the biggest crowds and the most money. He held the NWA/Detroit
U.S. Hwt. Championship nine times, more than anybody else except
The Sheik (12) who, after all, owned the promotion and therefore the
Brazil was also the U.S. Champion recognized by the WWWF seven
times for reigns totaling 4,072 days, by NWA/Toronto "Maple Leaf
Wrestling" once, by NWA/San Francisco "Big Time Wrestling" once and
by NWA/Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling once, holding that belt
for 22 days before losing the strap to a rising star who became legendary
"Nature Boy" Ric Flair on 7/29/1977 in Richmond, VA.
Brazil held the WWA/Hollywood version of the world title twice by
beating Buddy Austin both times in 1967 and '68 and the WWA/Indianapolis
version of that strap twice in 1981 with wins over Dick the Bruiser and
Back in Detroit, Brazil was an eight time NWA world tag team champion
when not holding the U.S. singles belt. Bobo's reigns were with five different
partners from 1965 to 1974 including Sailor Art Thomas, Dr. Big Bill Miller,
Layton, The Stomper (Guy Mitchell), Fred Curry and Tony Marino (three times
Brazil's final title was the Midwest All-Pro North American Hwt. Championship.
I was the ring announcer and television commentator for the match when he
lost that last title on 8/7/1990 in Belleville, MI at the Wayne County Fairgrounds
to my onetime high school classmate Irish Mickey Doyle.
On another county fair trip to Bad Axe in Michigan's thumb we arrived early
to promote the evening matches. Between the portable carnival rides and the
corn dog trailers was a local radio station broadcasting from a "remote" truck.
Several of us squeezed in to talk to the mid-day disc jockey during breaks
separating commercials and 1970s "oldies."
Brazil had done thousands of promos over decades and knew the value of
pre-match hype. He participated, but had a technique of ending an interview
when he grew tired of talking. At the end of an answer when he wanted to
be finished Bobo would simply but politely say "Thank-you very much" to
prevent any more questions. When this Bad Axe announcer became a bit
irreverent, Brazil cut him off in this fashion.
After Bobo exited the tiny truck this small town nobody continued to
be somewhat disrespectful. Those of us who stayed cooked up a plan to
If he thought wrestling was "fake" why not participate in a match that
night if he couldn't "get hurt"? We goaded this jabroni on his airwaves to
accept the challenge. He could team with 400-lb Man Mt, Lancaster (one
of my main enemies) vs Brazil and Coach Kurt "The Hun."
Off-air we explained all he had to do was stand on the ring apron and
never step between the ropes. He wouldn't be touched and couldn't be
hurt. On-air he accepted the challenge and promoed the confrontation
for the balance of his program.
When evening came Mr. Radioman (whose nondescript name I've long
forgotten) no-showed. It was left to me as ring announcer to explain to
the enthusiastic local crowd he must have been too afraid to honor his
I was then charged by the hulking Lancaster and in an impromptu
move I ran across the ring, jumped out and somehow grabbed the top
rope with my left hand so I could land on my feet on the dirt of the horse
racing track in front of the shaky wooden grandstand. Brazil proceeded
to beat Lancaster in a singles bout. They'd been feuding with each other
on the Ohio circuit.
I don't know how this radio nobody explained to his listening audience
the next day why he failed to be good to his word. By then we were long
gone from Bad Axe, having packed up and driven back home on M-53 as
soon as the show was over.
What I do know is I'll never forgive this guy for robbing me of my
chance to say, "I once teamed with Bobo Brazil."
Brazil was inducted to the second WWF (now WWE) Hall of Fame Class
of 1994, part of a seven member class that included Rogers (posthumously)
and Bobo's former Washington, DC manager James Dudley. (Andre The
Giant had been the lone original inductee in 1993.) Brazil's in-ring foe
but real life friend Ernie Ladd introduced Bobo for induction. The next
year Brazil returned the favor when "The Big Cat" was part of another
seven member class that included Detroit native George "The Animal"
Steele (Jim Myers).
Brazil and Ladd were also inducted (posthumously) to the NWA Hall
of Fame in 2013.
For unknown reasons, Brazil was never inducted to the Michigan Sports
Hall of Fame, although HoF founder Nick Kerbawy (the former Detroit Lions
and Detroit Pistons GM) was in favor of including professional wrestlers.
It would have been a natural fit as the MSHOF Plaques were displayed for
years in the Cobo Hallways outside the arena Brazil had helped pack to
For 20 years Brazil operated Bobo's Grill in Benton Harbor, often serving
fresh fish he'd caught off the end of a Lake Michigan dock early that morning.
Brazil/Harris passed away at age 73 on January 20, 1998 at the Lakeland
Medical Center in St. Joseph, MICH six days after suffering a series of strokes.
He was survived by a wife and six children.
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