African American Wrestling Experience

In some organized sports, by the beginning of the 20th Century, African Americans did find success. In 1908, John Baxter "Doc" Tayllor was the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal as a member of the 4 x 400 medley during the London Games. But in the sport of wrestling, another 80 years would pass before a Black athlete stood atop the podium in Seoul with the gleaming gold medal around his neck.

While African Americans were winning track gold medals, boxing to world championships and forming baseball's Negro National League, black youngsters were denied the opportunity to learn even the basics of wrestling because of restrictions placed on them by state high school associations. It wasn't until 1949, 13 years after Jessie Owens flouted Adolph Hitler's theories of racial superiority, winning four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics, that a black athlete is known to have wrestled in the NCAA championships. Harold Henson, representing San Diego State, lost his only match, 7-3, to Don Meeker of Oklahoma State in the 136-pound quarterfinals. At the time, Jackie Robinson had already been playing for the major league's Brooklyn Dodgers for two years.

By the early 1950s, Blacks were allowed to participate in high school wrestling in most northern states. In 1954, Simon Roberts of Davenport, Iowa, became the first African American to win an Iowa high school championship, defeating Ron Gray, a two-time defending state champion, to win the title. In 1957 at the NCAA tournament, Roberts made history again when he won the 147-pound title over former high school nemesis Gray.

Without doubt, African American participation in wrestling has added not just to successes on the mat, but also has endowed a depth and richness of culture to mankind's oldest and greatest sport.


If you have a suggestion for our timeline, please email it to info@nwhof.org, including a photograph, if possible.


Here is a timeline of African American wrestling successes!


  • 2021

    Record Five African-American NCAA Champions

    Record five African Americans are NCAA Wrestling Champions: Iowa State’s David Carr, Minnesota’s Gable Steveson and Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young, Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci.

  • 2021

    Tamyra Mensah Stock

    Tamyra Mensah Stock wins gold medal at 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, becoming the first Black woman to win Olympic gold in wrestling.

  • 2021

    Gable Steveson

    Gable Steveson wins gold medal at 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

  • 2019

    J'den Cox

    J’den Cox wins second consecutive world championship.

  • 2019

    Jordan Burroughs

    Jordan Burroughs wins eighth world medal with bronze at world championships.


  • 2019

    Tamyra Mensah Stock

    Tamyra Mensah-Stock wins gold medal at world championships.

  • 2019

    Jacarra Winchester

    Jacarra Winchester wins first world championship medal with gold.


  • 2018

    Tamyra Mensah Stock

    Tamyra Mensah-Stock becomes the first American, male or female, to win back-to-back gold medals at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix.

  • 2018

    Jordan Burroughs

    Jordan Burroughs wins bronze medal at 2018 World Championships, giving him an Olympic gold medal, four world championships and two world bronze medals.

  • 2018

    Kenny Monday

    Kenny Monday is inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame.

  • 2018

    Tamyra Mensah Stock

    Tamyra Mensah-Stock wins first world championship medal with bronze.

  • 2018

    J'den Cox

    J’den Cox wins gold medal at 2018 World Championships.

  • 2017

    Jordan Burroughs

    Jordan Burroughs wins his fourth world championship and helps United States win first World Championship team title since 1995. Burroughs five gold medals (2016 Olympics and 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 World Championships) tie him with Bruce Baumgartner and Adeline Gray for second-most gold medals in USA Wrestling history behind John Smith’s six gold medals.

  • 2017

    Tamyra Mensah Stock

    Tamyra Mensah-Stock wins gold medal at Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix.

  • 2017

    Kamal Bey

    Kamal Bey wins gold medal in Greco-Roman at Junior World Championships, first Greco-Roman Junior World title for the United States in 18 years.

  • 2016

    Joey Davis

    Joey Davis of NCAA Division II Notre Dame College wins his fourth national championship and becomes the third undefeated four-time champion with a 131-0 career record.

  • 2016

    J'den Cox

    J’den Cox wins a bronze medal in the Olympics.

  • 2015

    Jordan Burroughs

    Jordan Burroughs named United States Olympic Committee Athlete of the Year, becoming only third wrestler to win the award.

  • 2014

    Ed Ruth

    Ed Ruth becomes first three-time national wrestling champion in Penn State history and helps the Nittany Lions win their fourth national team title in his career.

  • 2013

    Jordan Burroughs

    Jordan Burroughs becomes second American to win three consecutive World/Olympic gold medals.

  • 2012

    Jordan Burroughs

    Jordan Burroughs wins gold medal at 2012 Olympics in London.

  • 2011

    Toccara Montgomery

    Toccara Montgomery wins a silver medal at the women’s world championships.

  • 2009

    Dremiel Byers

    Dremiel Byers becomes first African American, and only the second American, to win three medals at Greco-Roman World Championships.

  • 2008

    Leroy Kemp Jr.

    Lee Kemp, who won three world championships, is inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame.

  • 2008

    Randi Miller

    Randi Miller wins a bronze medal in the Olympics, becoming the first African-American female to win an Olympic medal.

  • 2007

    Marcus LeVesseur

    Marcus LeVesseur of NCAA Division III Augsburg University wins his fourth national championship and becomes only the second undefeated four-time champion with a 155-0 career record.

  • 2005

    Kevin Jackson

    Kevin Jackson becomes first African American inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame.

  • 2005

    Iris Smith

    Iris Smith wins a gold medal at the world championships, becoming first African-American female to win a world gold medal.

  • 2004

    Toccara Montgomery

    Toccara Montgomery becomes first African-American woman to wrestle for the United States in the Olympics.

  • 2002

    Dremiel Byers

    Dremiel Byers becomes first African American to win Greco-Roman world championship, capturing title in the heavyweight division.

  • 2001

    Toccara Montgomery

    Toccara Montgomery becomes the first African-American woman to win a medal at the World Championships with a silver medal.

  • 2001

    Kevin Jackson

    Kevin Jackson named USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach.

  • 1999

    T.J. and Joe Williams

    T.J. and Joe Williams become the first African-American brothers to win NCAA championships.

  • 1996

    Townsend Saunders

    Townsend Saunders wins a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics after finishing seventh in 1992.

  • 1992

    Bobby Douglas

    Bobby Douglas named U.S. Olympic Freestyle head coach.

  • 1992

    Rodney Smith

    Rodney Smith wins a bronze medal in Greco-Roman at the 1992 Olympics.

  • 1992

    Christopher Campbell

    Chris Campbell wins a bronze medal at 37 years old at the 1992 Olympics.

  • 1991

    Shawn Sheldon

    Shawn Sheldon wins silver medal at Greco-Roman World Championships.

  • 1989

    Michial Foy

    Michial Foy wins silver medal at Greco-Roman World Championships

  • 1989

    Leia Kawaii

    Leia Kawaii wins silver medal at world championships, becoming first African-American woman to win world medal.

  • 1989

    Carlton Haselrig

    Carlton Haselrig of Pitt-Johnstown wins record sixth NCAA Championship, three Division II titles and three Division I titles.

  • 1988

    Bobby Douglas

    Bobby Douglas coaches Arizona State to an NCAA team championship.

  • 1988

    Kenny Monday

    Kenny Monday becomes first Black wrestler in history to win an Olympic gold medal.

  • 1987

    Tim Wright

    Tim Wright of NCAA Division II Southern Illinois University Edwardsville becomes first four-time champion in NCAA wrestling history.

  • 1980

    Howard Harris

    Howard Harris of Oregon State becomes the first African American to be selected Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAA tournament.

  • 1979

    Darryl Burley

    Darryl Burley of Lehigh becomes first African-American wrestler to win an NCAA title as a true freshman.

  • 1978

    Leroy Kemp Jr.

    Record four African Americans are NCAA Wrestling Champions: Andy Daniels of Ohio University, Ken Mallory of Montclair State, Lee Kemp of Wisconsin and Jimmy Jackson of Oklahoma State.

  • 1978

    Leroy Kemp and Jimmy Jackson

    Leroy Kemp of Wisconsin and Jimmy Jackson of Oklahoma State become first African-American wrestlers to win three NCAA championships.

  • 1976

    Lloyd Keaser

    Lloyd Keaser becomes first African-American wrestler to win an Olympic medal, capturing silver in Montreal, Canada.

  • 1975

    Fletcher Carr

    Fletcher Carr of Kentucky becomes the first African-American coach to have an African-American wrestler earn Division I All-America honors when his brother, Joe, finished third.

  • 1974

    Rae McDonald, Charles Beck and Elijah Whitte

    Rae McDonald of University of Mount Union, Charles Beck of John Carroll University and Elijah Whitten of Ashland University become first African-American wrestlers to earn NCAA Division III All-American honors. McDonald and Beck finished second at 134 pounds and 150 pounds, respectively, while Whitten finished sixth. A year later, McDonald became first African American to become a two-time DIII All-American.

  • 1973

    Lloyd Keaser

    Lloyd Keaser becomes first African American to win a world championship gold medal.

  • 1972

    Jimmy Carr

    Jimmy Carr, who is 17 years old and a high school junior, becomes youngest American wrestler to compete in Olympics.

  • 1970

    Don Benning

    Don Benning leads Nebraska-Omaha to NAIA national team title and is believed to be the first African-American coach in any sport to win a national collegiate title. The title was also the first national collegiate team title won by a team from Nebraska in any sport.

  • 1969

    Carl Adams

    Carl Adams of Iowa State becomes the first freshman in history to earn NCAA All-American honors.

  • 1967

    Clarence Seal and Willie Williams

    Clarence Seal of Portland State and Willie Williams (pictured) of Illinois State win NCAA Division II titles.

  • 1966

    Bobby Douglas

    Bobby Douglas wins a world championship silver medal, becoming first African-American to win a world medal.

  • 1965

    Jim Nance

    Jim Nance of Syracuse becomes first African-American to win two NCAA wrestling championships.

  • 1965

    Charles Tribble

    Charles Tribble of Arizona State becomes first African American to win the Gorrarian award (most falls) at the NCAA tournament.

  • 1964

    Bobby Douglas, Charles Tribble and Robert Pickens

    Bobby Douglas, Charles Tribble and Robert Pickens become the first Black wrestlers to compete for the United States in the Olympics.

  • 1964

    Don Benning

    Don Benning named head coach at Nebraska-Omaha, becoming first African American to lead a collegiate wrestling team.

  • 1963

    Joe James

    Joe James becomes first African-American to win a gold medal in the Pan American games.

  • 1962

    Joe James

    Joe James, the first African American to wrestle for Oklahoma State, becomes first African-American to win a Big Eight championship.

  • 1962

    Rudy Williams and Hallow Wilson

    Rudy Williams and Hallow Wilson become first African Americans to wrestle for the United States at the world championships.

  • 1961

    Eddie McQuarters

    Eddie McQuarters of Tulsa Washington High School becomes first African-American to win an Oklahoma state high school championship.

  • 1960

    Ken Moore and Houston Antwine

    Ken Moore and Houston Antwine of SIU-Carbondale become first African Americans to win NAIA championships.

  • 1960

    Hallow Wilson

    Hallow Wilson becomes first African American to win an AAU championship, capturing heavyweight title in Greco-Roman.

  • 1959

    Bobby Douglas

    Bobby Douglas of Bridgeport becomes second African-American to win an Ohio state high school championship.

  • 1959

    Art Baker

    Art Baker of Syracuse wins EIWA championship.

  • 1958

    Simon Roberts

    Simon Roberts of Iowa becomes first African-American to win a Big Ten championship.

  • 1958

    Ludie Graddy

    Ludie Graddy of John Adams High School becomes first African-American to win an Ohio state high school championship.

  • 1957

    Simon Roberts

    Simon Roberts of Iowa becomes first African-American to win an NCAA championship.

  • 1957

    Art Baker

    Art Baker of Erie Academy becomes first African-American to win a Pennsylvania state high school championship.

  • 1954

    Simon Roberts

    Simon Roberts of Davenport becomes first African-American to win an Iowa state high school championship.

  • 1949

    Harold Henson

    Harold Henson of San Diego State becomes first African-American to wrestle in the NCAA tournament.

Our Mission: To honor the sport of wrestling by preserving its history, recognizing extraordinary individual achievements, and inspiring future generations