Connect
To Top


Gallery of Ironmen: Melvin Wells

Melvin Wells battled racism on and off the bodybuilding stage.


Opportunities for young African-American men were scant in the early days of bodybuilding, but one man, Melvin Wells, proved that greatness could prevail even though racism and injustice conspired to defeat him. Wells was born in Alabama on February 2, 1919, but the family moved to Buffalo, New York, when Melvin was still a child. From an early age he was fascinated by any heavy weight, but before he was 23, he saved up enough money to send off for a set of barbells. That's when he began proper workouts.

After a couple years Wells was ready to show the world what he had accomplished. In 1948 he went down to York, Pennsylvania, for a bodybuilding show. What the spectators saw that evening was a huge man. At that time Melvin stood 5'10' and tipped the scales at 207 pounds, but his proportions were what stunned most people. His chest was thick and his lats were wide, and they were accentuated by his 31-inch waist. Even so, he was most renowned for his massive back and arms.

Wells placed second at the '49 Mr. America competition. Many believed that he was unbeatable in 1950, but in spite of his massive physique, Melvin received another disappointing second-place finish. He was awarded trophies for best back, best arms and most muscular, and yet the top prize went to a white rival. That was too much for Wells, and he walked off the stage in disgust.

Was there racial prejudice at work? Many clearly thought so. Wells felt very bitter about the situation. He believed that he'd never been awarded the top prizes simply because he was black. There are many who agree that he should have been the first black Mr. America, but it was not to be, despite his virtual domination in the contests he entered.

Understandably, Wells zeal for competing waned considerably as a result of his treatment by the white bodybuilding establishment. He died in relative obscurity on March 17, 1994. Melvin Wells was one of the first and finest of African-American musclemen to compete in major bodybuilding competitions. He will always be a champion. IM

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in

  • Greek Versus Italian

      We all get tired of cooking sometimes. The trick is to find a decent take-out place that won’t ruin your...

    swarnavaNovember 29, 2016
  • Feel The Beet

    Move over kale, acai, pomegranate juice, and coconut water: Beetroot juice is the latest bodybuilding superfood. Unlike those others, beetroot juice...

    swarnavaNovember 28, 2016
  • Come To The Dark Side Of Coffee

      Regular coffee consumption is linked to decreased death from cardiovascular disease, lowered incidence of certain cancers, and decreased risk of...

    swarnavaNovember 25, 2016
  • Vegetable Beats Fruit

      From childhood on, we are constantly told to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. It...

    swarnavaNovember 24, 2016
  • Think Zinc

      New research from the Technical University of Munich sheds light on the fact that even a slight zinc deficiency has...

    swarnavaNovember 23, 2016
  • The Manly Spice

      Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has become popular among powerlifters and strength athletes for its ability to...

    swarnavaNovember 22, 2016
  • Live Long, Skip Soft Drinks

    Live Long, Skip Soft Drinks Most of us eat for our physique, but wouldn’t it be nice if the diet that...

    swarnavaNovember 21, 2016
  • Poor Sleep, Weak Training

    A new study found that sleep deficiency undermines your performance in the gym in a big way, especially when it comes...

    swarnavaNovember 18, 2016
  • Deconstructing The Dumbbells Bench Press

    The debate between the merits of the barbell bench press and the dumbbell bench press has raged for years, with the...

    swarnavaNovember 17, 2016