When Chicago was selected as one of the three locations for WrestleMania 2, Chicago Bears defensive tackle William “Refrigerator” Perry—fresh off of a victory in Super Bowl XX—was quickly selected to make an appearance in the battle that would serve as the featured attraction at Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon. If the World Wrestling Federation planners had known their wrestling history, they might have set their sights on the player wearing number 50, and slotted just a few feet behind Perry in the Bears’ vaunted scheme known as the 46 defense.
Given the effortlessness of the havoc wreaked by Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary on what was arguably the greatest defense in the history of the National Football League, it’s tempting to think that such physical gifts would be isolated to a sole individual in a family lineage. Certainly, such gifts could be bestowed only once in a century.
Once in a generation might be more like it, at least when the gene pool is as deep and prolific as the Texas Singletarys, and when a generation consists of as many as 10 offspring. Mike Singletary was the 10ht child born to Charles Singletary, who was himself the sixth child born to John and Lillie Singletary of Kaufman, Texas. Just a few places beneath Charles in the birth order was child number nine, Grady Singletary, born on December 9th of 1926. Between 1949 and 1967, Grady Singletary was known to professional wrestling fans by multiple names, but the most frequent of these was Tex Brady.
Grady “Tex Brady” Singletary with NFL Hall of Fame nephew Mike Singletary
While moonlighting as Tex Brady, Singletary would wrestle in at least a dozen different states during pro wrestling’s pre-Civil-Rights era. His most noteworthy accomplishment in the business, aside from being one of the many Black wrestlers who endured the hardships of discrimination in an effort to carve out a living in a profession that was especially brutal to wrestlers south of the Mason-Dixon Line, was his possession of the Texas Colored Heavyweight Championship.
Since Black wrestlers were frequently billed as “world” or “Southern” champions at the whim of whatever promoter was booking them, and because they often lacked a true stable championship that could be transferred between them, the Texas Colored Heavyweight Championship arguably possessed the most stable lineage of any of the early color-specific championships that existed prior to the targeted breakdown of racial barriers in pro wrestling.
As is often the case with Black wrestling legends from this era, knowledge of Grady Singletary’s in-ring exploits was relegated to obscurity outside of his friends and immediate family members.
Before becoming a professional wrestler, the 18-year-old Singletary worked at the Officer’s Club in Dallas. That was his place of employment when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the late stages of World War II in December of 1944. His draft registration card lists him at 6’2” and 196 pounds.
Grady “Tex Grady” Singletary’s WWII Draft Registration Card
After concluding his tenure as a U.S. Army private, Singletary commenced his wrestling career as Tex Grady in the Upper Midwest during the summer months of 1949. He was immediately billed as a former wrestling champion from the U.S. Army. Singletary’s youngest son, Grady Singletary Portis, confirmed that his father was living with his brother Derwood Singletary in Rockford, Illinois at the time. Accordingly, Singletary was living in Rockford when he was captured by the 1950 U.S. Census; he listed his official occupation as “wrestler.”
Grady Singletary listed as a “wrestler” on the 1950 U.S. Census
Described in newspapers as weighing anywhere from 215 pounds to 240 pounds, Singletary acquired his first in-ring experience primarily in losing efforts against established Black wrestling star Johnny “Cyclone” Cobb as the pair toured through Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
A few months after the 1950 census was recorded, Singletary returned to Texas alongside Cobb and competed against him throughout his home state during the summer of 1950. It is believed that he may have secured the Texas Colored Heavyweight Championship from Cobb during this period, as he was referred to as a former holder of the championship just two years later despite participating in no other clear feuds during which such an exchange might’ve taken place.
Singletary continued wrestling as Tex Grady into 1952 before making the switch to his more popular name. Among Singletary’s first appearances as “Tex Brady” took place on the “all-Negro wrestling card” sponsored by the Wichita Falls Negro Elks Lodge on November 3rd of 1953, where he participated as the referee for a match between Emerson Cozier and Bud Richardson—two other Black wrestling greats from Texas whose real-life identities and activities have remained shrouded in mystery. The event was held at the Wichita Falls Sportatorium as a Christmas benefit show with the proceeds going to underprivileged Black children.
From there, as if Singletary hadn’t already established himself in the state under his original moniker of Tex Grady—a born and bred Texan with an allusion to Texas baked into his ring name—his appearances as Tex Brady in 1954 had him touted as “a negro from Chicago” as he squared off against Jimmy “Panther” Carter, “a negro from Houston.”
Public acknowledgements to Brady’s size and strength were frequent. The report from one of the skirmishes between Brady and Carter noted how the men provided the ring with “550 pounds of hulking muscle,” and that both wrestlers had relied primarily on brute strength before Brady sealed a climactic victory in 12:15.
By August of 1954, Singletary was once again advertised as the “Colored Heavyweight Champion” of Texas as he began a series of title defenses against Willie Love. By late-August, he’d lost the championship to Love and concluded the summer in the role of challenger. He then departed from the wrestling rings of Texas and made his first recorded appearance in New Mexico during the fall of that year.
When Singletary returned to wrestling in Texas once again in late-1955, he went back to being billed as Tex Grady for his bouts against fellow Black wrestler and former professional football player Luther Lindsay. The following year, he once again wrestled as Tex Brady when he squared off against Tiger Conway and Emerson Cozier in Austin before switching back to the name Tex Grady as he unsuccessfully challenged Luther Lindsay for his Negro world championship.
In 1957 and 1958, Singletary went by Tex Grady for in-state contests with Tiger Conway and Emerson Cozier before venturing the furthest distance he’d ever traveled outside of Texas since his days wrestling in the Upper Midwest. In the fall of 1958, Singletary made his first tour of the Mid Atlantic as Tex Brady, which he commenced by competing against Bud Richardson in Asheville. The pair were advertised as “the best two Negro male wrestlers in the world today.” It was also declared to be “the first male Negro bout” ever held in Asheville.
Singletary and Richardson effectively paired off that season, and the two competed against one another throughout the traditional states of the Mid-Atlantic wrestling territory before concluding their coastal tour by grappling with one another across Georgia.
In the summer of 1959, Singletary returned to Texas as Tex Brady, and was again billed as the state’s “Colored champion” in matches against Emerson Crozier, Bud Richardson and Willie Love. Then, in late-June of 1959, Singletary—in his role as the Colored champion of Texas—began a feud with Ray “Big Train” Clements in what was billed as the first real test to see if a colored champion could compete with the best of the white wrestlers. In a result that certainly appeased the majority of the area’s most valued customers, Clements defeated Singletary in two consecutive falls, with the former living up to his role as the defender of white honor.
The loss to Clements appeared to mark the point of Singletary’s withdrawal from active wrestling as a regular contributor to the performance genre, as his subsequent periods of participation were conspicuously spotty. When Singletary briefly returned to action in 1960, it was to tour Louisiana as the tag team partner of Tiger Conway. From there, Singletary entered a period in which any of his in-ring activity—if there was any—fell beneath the radar of the press. He popped up again during August of 1966 as he traveled to Florida to challenge for the championship of “Florida Negro Wrestling Champion” Matt Jewel.
Grady “Tex Brady” Singletary during the late stages of his in-ring career
One year later, in 1967, Singletary briefly returned to action for his last bout on record, a handicap match in which he and the Sundown Kid both lost to Buddy Austin. With that, the then 41-year-old Singletary faded into anonymity with the inexorable certainty of a Dallas sunset. It was a move that typified the post-wrestling lives of many of the most prolific Black wrestlers of the pre-Civil-Rights era.
While Singletary’s grandson Evan Littlejohn regrets never getting to see his grandfather wrestling in person, he confirmed that wrestling remained a fixture of Singletary’s life long after his retirement from the ring.
“World Class Championship Wrestling was a staple of our household,” said Littlejohn. “You knew it was a special night for my grandfather when wrestling was on. He didn’t just bring pizza and ice cream home every night; he’d only have that for us on wrestling nights. Those were special nights for him.”
Thanks to his grandfather’s wrestling connections, Littlejohn was also treated to trips to see wrestling at the Dallas Sportatorium during the period of time when he and his mother lived with his grandparents.
“We would take trips to watch wrestling there, and I’d watch guys like Chris Adams and the Von Erichs,” recalled Singletary. “My grandfather would go off somewhere and come back after he got us our popcorn. He had probably gone off to talk to the people he knew.”
Outside of the wrestling ring, Littlejohn confirmed that his grandfather worked as a TV repairman for decades, owning Zip Radio & Television Repair on Singleton Boulevard in Dallas.
“When you went to his shop, that place was packed,” stated Littlejohn. “He always had customers. That was a thriving business in the Black community. He operated it until he was shot and robbed in the early- to mid-1980s. He was shot in the process of being robbed. The guy shot him in the thigh with a sawed-off shotgun. My grandfather almost died. Even if he was still wrestling then, that would have effectively ended his wrestling career.”
Singletary passed away on September 28th of 2001. While his obituary mentioned his exploits as a professional wrestler, the announcement likely flew under the radar of astute pro wrestling historians due to the fact that he was referred to in the document as “Tex Grady,” the less-common of his two ring names.
“I don’t think anybody around him knew he was a pro wrestler,” said Littlejohn. “He never spoke about the hardships of being a Black wrestler in that era. It wasn’t really talked about. He still supported it, though. We were raised to idolize Junkyard Dog and a lot of the Black wrestlers. He saw a lot of the guys he wrestled with, too, like Tiger Conway. They would come visit, or he would visit Tiger when we went to Houston. I just didn’t realize the significance of what was going on there at the time. I was a kid. They were the adults talking about adult things, and I was just a kid.”
Fortunately, Tiger Conway Jr. was in the room for several of those conversations.
“Tex Brady was my father’s friend. They used to talk a lot when they got together,” recalled Conway Jr. “They had to endure a lot of things most people don’t understand. They used to bring my dad a sandwich in the car, and he had to sit outside and eat in the car. He would tell me how hungry he was, and he had to put up with those things. They all did. Very few people understood what the Black wrestlers went through back then. Only the other wrestlers did. That’s why they always hung out together.”
In short, that’s how a man who became affectionately known as “The Heart of the Defense” to many Chicago Bears fans was anonymously preceded in athletic stardom by a family member who encapsulated the Black pro wrestling experience deep in the heart of Texas.