George Gray was a big, baby-faced man. By big, we mean big - nearing seven feet tall and almost four hundred pounds. Pro wrestling seemed a natural fit for someone with that build, and one short mohawk later and some biker clothing and he was billed as One Man Gang. It wasn't one of those legendary gimmicks that you build a career on - neither one that was recycled over and over again (what was Hulk Hogan but a copy of Superstar Billy Graham) or one that just happened to stick, such as Bret Hart's "Hitman" gimmick. Some wrestlers try to find their voice over a career and find it - just as how Dwayne Johnson became The Rock after being Rocky Maivia, Triple H started out as a would be blue blood, never mind "Stunning" Steve Austin becoming "Stone Cold". Some simply put on and take off gimmicks over the course of a career, content to play one character after another, rejuvenating a career that goes stale when people tire of who you're playing.
Meanwhile, down in Jim Crockett's non-WWF controlled territory, Dustin Runnels had a career being "The American Dream", Dusty Rhodes. Dusty was a big man, himself - and had a very peculiar delivery, with some strange inflections and a rather animated way of speaking. It wasn't immediately apparent to most, but he was actually channelling a former and lesser known wrestler called "Sweet Daddy Siki", a black man. Once you know this, Dustin's animated way of speaking and odd drawl makes sense - he wasn't exactly affecting an Ebonic accent, but he was channelling it in spirit, and people found him insanely entertaining. If you look carefully at footage of Dustin, you can see the everpresent dark circles around his eyes that spoke to the poverty he endured growing up, missing nutrition in childhood which later wealth couldn't replace - which had led him to be exposed to more of Texas than a middle class man of his age would have. His adoption of Siki was neither mocking nor appropriation - he took a character, nodded to it, and made it his own.
The WWF decided to mock this, coming up with the idea of a wrestler who had decided that his inner self, his real self - was a black man, even though he was a cracker white boy from Texas. (Actually Gray was from South Carolina, but you get the idea). So they set up what amounted to one of the most horribly racist things the WWF had ever come up with, and this was a company that would later have Mexican wrestlers show up on riding lawn mowers. Mind you, Kelly Osbourne has since told us that suggesting that Mexicans exist to clean white people's toilets isn't racist, because reasons - but I digress.
The vignette that introduced this new character started out with Mean Gene Okerlund nervous that he's in the "bad part of town". You know, the ghetto. The part of town that places like Memphis and Atlanta call "niggertown", without a hint of remorse. (It's actually a set, but still). In comes "Brother Slick", the Lord Haw-Haw of black folk in wrestling, with his pageboy hat, Jheri curl and pimp suit, slithering into the frame carrying a ghetto blaster over one shoulder. You already know this isn't going to be good.
Needless to say, we then start to hear some Lion King-style African chanting and drums, and men enter the frame carrying spears. I know the Lost Poets and some Ankh-wearing types had some kind of spiritual "back to Africa" movement, but I don't recall people in the 70s carrying spears. And into this morass of every stereotypical black trope walks Gray, in a bright yellow dashiki with matching African hat, announcing that he's "really from Africa" and announcing himself as "the African Dream". He chicken-heads at the neck, amusing in that he has no neck, and proceeds to speak in an awful faux-jive while attempting the kind of dance moves you'd see an Aryan Brotherhood member make to a fellow prisoner to taunt him into a fight. He's not very good at it, though he's trying, which makes the whole spectacle even more embarassing and insulting. As Benny Hill and Robert Downey, Jr showed, if you're going to do a blackface joke, you'd better do it really really well, and you MIGHT get away with it. Almost. But Grey wasn't imitating a black man, he was imitating a white man imitiating a black man. It should never have happened, because Gray clearly did what he was told like the good worker he was, but he was ENTIRELY unsuited to it - which made for a great mockery of Dusty Rhodes - if you were one of the very few outside of WWF Creative that got the joke.
Meanwhile, the drums are going "ayyyy-ohhhhh, bunga bunga bunga", Slick is practically moonwalking dripping Jheri Curl all over the set, and men are shaking spears like they've been cast in some Broadway show about Africa.
What they were attempting to do was mock the hell out of Dusty Rhodes, but to the casual viewer, meaning almost everyone - completely lacking the context - it simply looked like they had managed to come up with a more insulting blackface than actual blackface - the irony being that if they'd simply applied shoe polish to Gray's face, it would have been less insulting. And they debut'd this during Black History Month.
The gimmick wasn't just a one-off, they kept this character, meaning that WWF viewers had to endure this very painful spectacle for years before Akeem left the WWF - having faded into obscurity there. As the 1990s rolled around that sort of thing got less and less cute and most certainly Gray was happy to be rid of that gimmick. He rejoined wrestling as One Man Gang in WCW and moved on - and most certainly, everyone involved was happier for it.
Until much later, in the 2000s - George Gray, back as One Man Gang, a bit smaller and missing his mohawk, showed up to an independent wrestling show as One Man Gang. In the audience, a man had recreated the Akeem outfit, complete with yellow hat and dashiki - and his opponents interrupted his entrance, smiling, to point him out. It wasn't mocking, it was one of those things where the audience member had done a loving tribute to the man's career, and Gray stopped. The man imitated his characteristic snake-like dance undulation, and Gray responded with his then trademarked faux-Black Power upraised fist salute. It was kind of like watching someone bring up an embarassing year book photo to your 20 year reunion, and everyone having a good cathartic laugh with it.
And then, the match started.