On Bringing Black Sam Back to Life

I was reading Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George? (which is a great book that you can read about here) and learned of Viro Small, who was the first known black professional wrestler. Small was a former slave in South Carolina who made his way north to Vermont, then a grappling hotbed, where he took on the ring name Black Sam.

Viro Small. Wikipedia

A quick Google search lead to Black Sam’s Statue (2015), a brief documentary by film student Elliott Marquis. Featuring clippings from Vermont newspapers and The National Police Gazette, and re-enactments interspersed with an artist sculpting a statue of the rediscovered grappler, it tells the story of Sam’s fighting life from the barns of St. Albans to early incarnations of the famed Madison Square Garden in New York.

As a wrestling and boxing fan, it is a delight to see a long-forgotten fighter come back to life. As an archivist, I did an internal victory lap when I saw primary source materials integrated into the documentary. Huzzah for archives and for the documentarians who use them!

If you’re an archivist, watch the film to see how the work you do can help a young film student uncover the past. If you’re a wrestling fan, watch it to learn about the vast history of the art you love and learn about the world before Gorgeous George.


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