Sylvester Ritter was a professional wrestler better known to the world as the Junkyard Dog. A native of Wadesboro, North Carolina, and a college football player at Fayetteville State University, Ritter found big success in wrestling.
In 1979, in the territory of Mid South Wrestling, Ritter was given the JYD name and a decision was made about his career that would shock the pro wrestling world. The promoter, Bill Watts, and his office workers, decided to make JYD the top star of the federation. Although a black man had occasionally been a main event star, or the top star in a city-based promotion, no one had made a black man the undisputed focus of an entire promotion. That it happened in the deep south, in the midst of the backlash against the Civil Rights Era, made it more amazing.
The decision worked. For the next five years, Sylvester Ritter's alter ego, the Junkyard Dog, was the biggest star in the territory, which stretched from Houston to Mississippi, New Orleans to Oklahoma. A few good ole boys were upset, but the fans were thrilled. JYD became a cross-over success. Everyone loved him. And nowhere was he a bigger star than New Orleans, where he packed the Downtown Municipal Auditorium -- aka "the Dog's Yard" -- weekly and drew huge crowds to the Superdome four or five times a year.
By my unofficial tally, JYD and Mid South drew more than a million fans in New Orleans over a five-year span. Before the chant became adopted by the Saints, the "Who Dat?" cheer was used for JYD. "Who Dat? Who Dat? Who Dat think they gunna beat that Dog?"
In 1984, JYD left Mid South for the nationally expanding WWF. He was a huge star for the rest of the decade, but never as big as he was in Mid South. Sadly, drug use ruined his career and he died in a car accident in 1998. Largely, JYD, Sylvester Ritter and the legacy he had in wrestling and in New Orleans have been forgotten. I want to change that.
My name is Greg Klein and I am an actor and a writer. For a short time I was also a pro wrestler. My wife is from New Orleans, and we were driving by the Superdome one day while we were living in Nola, when I lamented the lost history. Someone should write about it, I remarked. My wife, in her typical brilliance, responded that I should write about it.
The result is my book, "The King of New Orleans, How the Junkyard Dog Became Pro Wrestling's First Black Superstar" by ECW Press. The book is for sale, and I am happy to honor Ritter's memory. However, from the beginning, I have wanted to do more. There should be a statue honoring him at Louis Armstrong Park in the Treme section of New Orleans. There should be a gravestone marking his resting place in North Carolina. He should be inducted in FSU's Ring of Honor. This indiegogo account is my first (but not last) attempt to honor Sylvester Ritter's memory by raising money for projects in his name.
One of Ritter's best friends from high school and college was his teammate Richard Johnson. Mr. Johnson was very helpful to me when I was researching my book. He mentioned to me that he and his wife, Apostle Kathy Johnson, were building a church in Hickory, NC. I promised him that I would do whatever I could to help.
In one of the first angles in Mid South that "made" JYD a star, the promotion pretended that he had been blinded by the evil Freebirds. Of course it was just a story line, not real. Still, as Mid South sold, week after week, that JYD would never be able to wrestle again, and would have to find another way to support his family, something amazing happened. Fans send him money in care of the Mid South offices. Sometimes it was just change; other times it was twenty dollar bills. Usually, it was just a one or a five. However, it added up to more than a thousand dollars.
My idea is no pro wrestling work, but I hope it works as well as the Freebird angle. All I ask is that JYD's fans send a dollar or some change or even a five or twenty in his name. The Johnsons are good people and I am sure Ritter would love to help them build their church. Once we have done that, I will feel confidant about moving on to bigger projects like a statue or a gravestone.
Please give in the name of Sylvester Ritter aka the Junkyard Dog.