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Joe Louis

Joseph Louis Barrow (May 13, 1914 – April 12, 1981), better known as Joe Louis, was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949. Nicknamed the Brown Bomber, Louis helped elevate boxing from a nadir in popularity in the post-Jack Dempsey era by establishing a reputation as an honest, hardworking fighter at a time when the sport was dominated by gambling interests.[1][2]

Joe Louis vs Tony "Two Ton" Galento 1939

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Louis's championship reign lasted 140 consecutive months, during which he participated in 27 championship fights, including 25 successful title defenses – all records for the heavyweight division. In 2005, Louis was named the greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization,[3] and was ranked number one on Ring Magazine's list of 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.

Louis's cultural impact was felt well outside the ring. He is widely regarded as the first African American to achieve the status of a nationwide hero within the United States, and was also a focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment leading up to and during World War II.[4] He also was instrumental in integrating the game of golf, breaking the sport's color barrier in America by appearing under a sponsor's exemption in a PGA event in 1952.[5]

Early life

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Louis was born on May 13, 1914 in a ramshackle dwelling about six miles northwest of La Fayette, in rural Chambers County, Alabama. Louis was the son of Munroe Barrow and Lillie (Reese) Barrow, and seventh of eight children.[6] He weighed 11 pounds at birth.[6] Both Louis's parents were the children of former slaves, alternating between sharecropping and rental farming.[7] Munroe was predominantly African American with some white ancestry, while Lillie was half Cherokee.[7]

Louis spent twelve years growing up in rural Alabama, where little is known of his childhood. He suffered from a speech impediment, and spoke very little until about the age of six.[8] Munroe Barrow was committed to a mental institution in 1916, and as a result Joe knew very little of his biological father.[9] Around 1920, Louis's mother married Pat Brooks, a local construction contractor, having received word that Munroe Barrow had died while institutionalized (in reality, Munroe Barrow lived until 1938, unaware of his son's fame).[10]

In 1926, shaken by an altercation with the Ku Klux Klan, Louis's family moved to Detroit, Michigan, forming part of the post-World War I Great Migration.[11][12] Joe's brother worked for Ford Motor Company (where Joe would himself work for a time at the River Rouge Plant[13]) and the family settled into a home at 2700 Catherine (now Madison) Street in Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood.[14]

Louis attended Bronson Vocational School for a time to learn cabinet-making,[13] and his mother attempted to get Joe interested in playing the violin.[15]

Amateur career

The Depression hit the Louis family hard, but as an alternative to gang activity, Joe began to spend time at a local youth recreation center at 637 Brewster Street in Detroit.[16] Legend has it that he tried to hide his pugilistic ambitions from his mother by carrying his boxing gloves inside his violin case.[17]

Louis's amateur debut, probably in early 1932,[18] came as a light-heavyweight at age 17. A legend exists that before the fight Louis, only barely literate, wrote his name so large that there was no room for his last name "Barrow" – as a result becoming known as "Joe Louis" for the remainder of his boxing career.[19] More likely, Louis simply omitted his last name to keep his boxing pursuits a secret from his mother.[20] After this debut (a loss to future Olympian Johnny Miller[21]), Louis compiled numerous amateur victories – eventually winning the club championship of his Brewster Street recreation center, the home of many aspiring Golden Gloves fighters.[22]

In 1933, Louis won the Detroit-area Golden Gloves Novice Division championship for the light heavyweight classification against Joe Biskey, later losing in the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions.[23] The next year, competing in the Golden Gloves' Open Division, he won the light heavyweight classification, this time also winning the Chicago Tournament of Champions. Although a hand injury forced Louis to miss the New York/Chicago Champions' cross-town bout for the ultimate Golden Gloves championship in 1934, he followed up his Chicago performance by winning the National AAU tournament in St. Louis, Missouri in April of that year.[24] By the end of his amateur career, Louis's record was 50 wins against 4 losses, with 43 knockouts.[25]

Professional career

Early years

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Louis's impressive amateur performances attracted the interest of professional promoters. Rather than sign with an established promoter, Louis agreed to be represented by a black Detroit-area bookmaker named John Roxborough. As Louis explained it in his autobiography, Roxborough convinced Louis that white managers would have no real interest in seeing a black boxer work his way up to title contention:

[Roxborough] told me about the fate of most black fighters, ones with white managers, who wound up burned-out and broke before they reached their prime. The white managers were not interested in the men they were handling but in the money they could make from them. They didn't take the proper time to see that their fighters had a proper training, that they lived comfortably, or ate well, or had some pocket change. Mr. Roxborough was talking about Black Power before it became popular.[26]

Roxborough knew a Chicago-area boxing promoter named Julian Black, who already had a stable of mediocre boxers against which Louis could hone his craft – this time in the more lucrative heavyweight division.[26] Once he was part of the management team, Black solicited Jack "Chappie" Blackburn, another Chicago native, as Louis's trainer.[26] As a result, Louis' initial professional fights were all located in the Chicago area. His professional debut came on July 4, 1934 against Jack Kracken in the Bacon Casino on Chicago's south side.[27] Louis earned $59 for knocking out Kracken in the first round.[28] Louis won all 12 professional fights that year, 10 by way of knockout.

In September 1934, while promoting a Detroit-area "coming home" bout for Louis against Canadian Alex Borchuk, Roxborough was pressured by members of the Michigan State Boxing Commisision to have Louis sign with white management.[29] Roxborough refused, and continued advancing Louis's career with bouts against heavyweight contenders Art Sykes and Stanley Poreda.

When training for a fight against Lee Ramage, Louis noticed a young female secretary for the black newspaper Chicago Defender at the gym. After defeating Ramage, the secretary, Marva Trotter, was invited to the celebration party at Chicago's Grand Hotel.[30] Trotter would later become Louis's first wife in 1935.

During this time, Louis also met a longtime associate who would eventually become his personal lawyer, Truman Gibson. As a young associate at a law firm hired by Julian Black, Gibson was charged with personally entertaining Louis during the pendency of business deals.[31]

Title contention

Although Louis' management was finding him bouts against legitimate heavyweight contenders, no path to the title was forthcoming. Although boxing was not officially segregated, white Americans had become wary of the prospect of another black champion in the wake of Jack Johnson's highly unpopular "reign of terror" atop the heavyweight division,[1] and an informal barrier existed that kept black boxers out of title contention.[1][32] Biographer Gerald Astor stated that "Joe Louis' early boxing career was stalked by the spectre of Jack Johnson."[1][33]

A change in management was inevitable. In 1935, boxing promoter Mike Jacobs sought out Louis' handlers. After Louis' narrow defeat of Natie Brown on March 29, 1935, Jacobs and the Louis team met at the Frog Club, a colored nightclub, and negotiated a three-year exclusive boxing promotion deal.[34] The contract, however, did not keep Roxborough and Black from attempting to cash in as Louis' managers; when Louis turned 21 on May 13, 1935, Roxborough and Black each signed Louis to an onerous long-term contract that collectively dedicated half of Louis' future income to the pair.[26]

Black and Roxborough, however, did serve to carefully shape Louis' media image. Seeking to ensure that Louis did not meet the same fate as Johnson, who suffered tremendous public backlash for his flamboyant lifestyle, they drafted seven "commandments" for Louis' personal conduct. These included:

  • Never have his picture taken with a white woman (though he once was photographed with a white teenaged girl for a local paper in Michigan who was doing a story on Louis for her high school newspaper).
  • Never gloat over a fallen opponent
  • Never engage in fixed fights
  • Live and fight clean[20][35]

As a result, Louis was generally portrayed in the white media as a clean-living, modest person, which facilitated his burgeoning celebrity status.[36] With the backing of major promotion, Louis fought 13 times in 1935. The bout that helped put him in the media spotlight occurred on June 25, when Louis knocked out a former world heavyweight champion, the 6'6", 265-pound Primo Carnera, in six rounds. Foreshadowing the Louis-Schmeling rivalry to come, the Carnera bout featured a political dimension. Louis' defeat of Carnera, who symbolized Benito Mussolini's regime in the popular eye, was seen as a victory for the international community, particularly among African Americans, who were sympathetic to Ethiopia during its occupation by Italy.[37][38][39] America's white press began promoting Louis' image in as positive a manner as was possible for the times; nicknames created for Louis included the "mahogany mauler," "chocolate chopper," "coffee-colored KO king," "saffra sandman," and one that stuck, "The Brown Bomber."[39][40] Helping the white press to overcome any reluctance to feature a black contender was the fact that boxing, in the mid-1930s, was in desperate need of a marketable hero. Since the retirement of Jack Dempsey in 1929, boxing had devolved into a sordid mixture of poor athletes, gambling, fixed fights, thrown matches, and control of the sport by organized crime.[1] New York Times columnist Edward VanNess wrote, "Louis ... is a boon to boxing. Just as Dempsey led the sport out of the doldrums ... so is Louis leading the boxing game out of a slump."[1] Likewise, biographer Bill Libby asserted that "The sports world was hungry for a great champion when Louis arrived in New York in 1935."[1][2] Although the mainstream press was beginning to embrace Louis, there remained some fear at the prospect of another black heavyweight champion. In September 1935, on the eve of Louis' fight with the former title holder Max Baer, Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich expressed American hopes for the white contender; "They say Baer will surpass himself in the knowledge that he is the lone white hope for the defense of Nordic superiority in the prize ring."[1] It was not to be. Although Baer had been knocked down only once before in his professional career (by Frankie Campbell), Louis dominated Baer, knocking him out in four rounds. Unknowingly, Baer suffered from a unique disadvantage in the fight; earlier that evening, Louis had married Marva Trotter at a friend's apartment, and was eager to end the fight in order to consummate the relationship.[41] Later that year, Louis also knocked out Paolino Uzcudun, who had never been knocked down or out before.

Louis v. Schmeling I

By this time, Louis was ranked as the No. 1 contender in the heavyweight division,[42] and had won the Associated Press' "Athlete of the Year" award for 1935.[39] What was considered to be a final tune-up bout before an eventual title shot was scheduled for June 1936 against former world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling. Although a former champion, Schmeling was not considered a threat to Louis, then with an undefeated professional record of 27-0.[43] Schmeling had won his title on a technicality when Jack Sharkey was disqualified after giving Schmeling a low blow in 1930. Schmeling was also 30 years old at the time of the Louis bout, and allegedly past his prime.[43] Perhaps as a result, Louis took his training for the Schmeling fight less than seriously. Louis's training retreat was located at Lakewood, New Jersey, where Louis was first able to practice the game of golf, which later became a lifelong passion.[44] Noted entertainer Ed Sullivan had initially sparked Louis's interest in the sport by giving an instructional book to Joe's wife, Marva.[45] Louis spent significant time on the golf course rather than training for the Schmeling match.[26][46]

Conversely, Schmeling prepared intently for the bout. Schmeling had thoroughly studied Louis's style, and believed he had found a weakness.[47] By exploiting Louis's habit of dropping his left hand low after a jab, Schmeling handed Louis his first professional loss by knocking him out in Round 12 at Yankee Stadium on June 19, 1936.[48]

World Championship

After defeating Louis, Schmeling expected a title shot against James J. Braddock, who had unexpectedly defeated Max Baer for the heavyweight title the previous June. Madison Square Garden (MSG) had a contract with Braddock for the title defense and also sought a Braddock-Schmeling title bout. But Jacobs and Braddock's manager Joe Gould had been planning a Braddock-Louis matchup for months.[49] Schmeling's victory gave Gould tremendous leverage, however; if he were to offer Schmeling the title chance instead of Louis, there was a very real possibility that Nazi authorities would never allow Louis a shot at the title.[49] Gould's demands were therefore onerous: Jacobs would have to pay 10% of all future boxing promotion profits (including any future profits from Louis's future bouts) for ten years.[50] Braddock and Gould would eventually receive more than $150,000 from this arrangement.[50] Well before the actual fight, Jacobs and Gould publicly announced that their fighters would face for the heavyweight title on June 22, 1937.[50] Figuring that the New York State Athletic Commission would not sanction the fight in deference to MSG and Schmeling, Jacobs scheduled the fight for Chicago.[50]

Each of the parties involved worked to facilitate the controversial Braddock-Louis matchup. Louis did his part by knocking out former champion Jack Sharkey on August 18, 1936. Meanwhile, Gould trumped up anti-Nazi sentiment against Schmeling,[51] and Jacobs defended a lawsuit by MSG to halt the Braddock-Louis fight. A federal court in Newark, New Jersey eventually ruled that Braddock's contractual obligation to stage his title defense at MSG was unenforceable for lack of mutual consideration.[51]

The stage was set for Louis's title shot. On the night of the fight, June 22, 1937, Braddock was able to knock Louis down in Round 1, but afterward could accomplish little. After inflicting constant punishment, Louis defeated the "Cinderella Man" by knockout in Round 8. Louis's ascent to the world heavyweight title was complete.

Louis's victory was a seminal moment in African American history. Thousands of African Americans stayed up all night across the country in celebration.[4] Noted author and member of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes described Louis's effect in these terms:

Each time Joe Louis won a fight in those depression years, even before he became champion, thousands of colored Americans on relief or W.P.A., and poor, would throng out into the streets all across the land to march and cheer and yell and cry because of Joe's one-man triumphs. No one else in the United States has ever had such an effect on Negro emotions – or on mine. I marched and cheered and yelled and cried, too.[52]

Initial title defenses

Despite now being heavyweight champion, Louis was haunted by the earlier defeat to Schmeling. Shortly after winning the title, he was quoted as saying: "I don't want to be called champ until I whip Max Schmeling."[43] Louis's manager Mike Jacobs attempted to arrange a rematch with Schmeling in 1937, but negotiations broke down when Schmeling demanded 30% of the gate.[53] When Schmeling instead attempted to arrange for a fight against British Empire Champion Tommy Farr, known as "the Tonypandy Terror," – ostensibly for a world championship to rival the claims of American boxing authorities – Jacobs outmaneuvered him, offering Farr a guaranteed $60,000 to fight Louis instead. The offer was too lucrative for Farr to turn down.[54]

On 30 August 1937, after a postponement of four days due to rain, Louis and Farr finally touched gloves at New York's Yankee Stadium before a crowd of approximately 32,000.[55] Louis fought one of the hardest battles of his life. The bout was closely contested and went the entire 15 rounds, with Louis being unable to knock Farr down. Referee Arthur Donovan was even seen shaking Farr's hand after the bout, in apparent congratulation.[56] Nevertheless, after the score was announced, Louis had won a controversial unanimous decision.[56][57] Time Magazine described the scene thus: "After collecting the judges' votes, referee Arthur Donovan announced that Louis had won the fight on points. The crowd of 50,000...amazed that Farr had not been knocked out or even knocked down, booed the decision... Speaking over the radio after the fight, Louis admitted that he had been hurt twice."[58]

In preparation for the inevitable rematch with Schmeling, Louis tuned up with bouts against Nathan Mann and Harry Thomas.

Louis v. Schmeling II

The rematch between Louis and Schmeling is one of the most famous boxing matches of all time, and is remembered as one of the major sports events of the 20th century.[43] Following his defeat of Louis in 1936, Schmeling became a national hero in Germany. Schmeling's victory over an African American was touted by Nazi officials as proof of their doctrine of Aryan superiority. When the rematch was scheduled, Louis retreated to his boxing camp in New Jersey and trained incessantly for the fight. A few weeks before the bout, Louis visited the White House, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt told him, "Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany."[43] Louis later admitted: "I knew I had to get Schmeling good. I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending on me."[59]

When Schmeling arrived in New York in June, 1938 for the rematch, he was accompanied by a Nazi party publicist who issued statements that a black man could not defeat Schmeling, and that when Schmeling won, his prize money would be used to build tanks in Germany. Schmeling's hotel was picketed by anti-Nazi protesters in the days before the fight.[43]

On the night of June 22, 1938, Louis and Schmeling met for the second time in the boxing ring. The fight was held in Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 70,043. It was broadcast by radio to millions of listeners throughout the world, with radio announcers reporting on the fight in English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Before the bout, Schmeling weighed in at 193 pounds; Louis weighed in at 198¾ pounds.[43]

The fight lasted two minutes and four seconds.[60] Louis battered Schmeling with a series of swift attacks, forcing Schmeling against the ropes and giving him a paralyzing body blow (Schmeling later claimed it was an illegal kidney punch). Schmeling was knocked down three times, and only managed to throw two punches in the entire bout. On the third knockdown, Schmeling's trainer threw in the towel and referee Arthur Donovan stopped the fight.[43]

 

The "Bum of the Month Club"

In the 29 months from January 1939 through May 1941, Louis defended his title thirteen times, a frequency unmatched by any heavyweight champion since the end of the bare-knuckle era. The pace of his title defenses, combined with his convincing wins, earned Louis' opponents from this era the collective nickname "Bum of the Month Club."[20] Notables of this lambasted pantheon include:

  • World light-heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis who, attempting to move up a weight class, was knocked out in the first round by Louis on January 25, 1939.[61]
  • "Two Ton" Tony Galento, who was able to push Louis to the canvas in the third round of their bout on June 28, 1939, before letting his guard down and being knocked out in the fourth.[61]
  • Chilean Arturo Godoy, who Louis fought twice in 1940, on February 9 and June 20. Louis won the first bout by a decision, and the rematch by a knockout in the eighth round.[61]
  • Al McCoy, putative New England heavyweight champion, whose fight against Louis is probably best known for being the first heavyweight title bout held in Boston, Massachusetts (at the Boston Garden on December 16, 1940). The popular local challenger dodged his way around Louis before being unable to respond to the sixth-round bell.[61]
  • Clarence "Red" Burman, who pressed Louis for nearly five rounds at Madison Square Garden on January 31, 1941 before succumbing to a series of body blows.[61]
  • Gus Dorazio, of whom Louis remarked, "At least he tried," after being leveled by a short right hand in the second round at Philadelphia's Convention Hall on February 17.[61]
  • Abe Simon, who endured thirteen rounds of punishment before 18,908 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit on March 21 before referee Sam Hennessy declared a TKO.
  • Tony Musto, who, at 5'71/2" and 198 pounds, was known as the "baby tank." Despite a unique crouching style, Musto was slowly worn down over eight and a half rounds in St. Louis on April 8.[61]
  • Buddy Baer (brother of former champion Max), who was leading the May 23, 1941 bout in Washington, D.C. until an eventual barrage by Louis, capped by a late hit after the sixth round bell. Despite the late hit, referee Arthur Donovan disqualified Baer before the beginning of the seventh round as a result of stalling by Baer's manager.[61]

Despite its derogatory nickname, most of the group were top-ten heavyweights. Of the twelve fighters Louis faced during this period, five were rated by The Ring magazine as top-ten heavyweights in the year they fought Louis – Galento (overall #2 heavyweight in 1939), Bob Pastor (#3, 1939), Godoy (#3, 1940), Simon (#6, 1941), and Baer (#8, 1941); four others (Musto, Dorazio, Burman, and Johnny Paycheck) were ranked in the top ten in a different year.[62]

Joe Louis' the famous boxer - Gravestone

Source.

Joe Louis' gravestone - Arlington National Cemetery

Billy Conn fight

Louis' string of lightly-regarded competition ended with his bout against Billy Conn, the light-heavyweight champion and a highly-regarded contender. The fighters met on June 18, 1941, in front of a crowd of 54,487 fans at the Polo Grounds in New York City.[63] The fight turned out to be one of the greatest heavyweight boxing fights of all time.

Conn would not gain weight for the challenge against Louis, saying instead that he would rely on a "hit and run" strategy. Louis's famous response: "He can run, but he can't hide."[13][64]

However, Louis had clearly underestimated Conn's threat. In his autobiography, Joe Louis said, "I made a mistake going into that fight. I knew Conn was kinda small and I didn't want them to say in the papers that I beat up on some little guy so the day before the fight I did a little roadwork to break a sweat and drank as little water as possible so I could weigh in under 200 pounds. Chappie was as mad as hell. But Conn was a clever fighter, he was like a mosquito, he'd sting and move."[63]

Conn had the better of the fight through twelve rounds, although Louis was able to stun Conn with a left hook in the fifth, cutting his eye and nose. By the eighth round, Louis began suffering from dehydration. By the twelfth round, Louis was exhausted, with Conn ahead on two of three boxing scorecards. But against the advice of his corner, Conn continued to closely engage Louis in the later stages of the fight. Louis made the most of the opportunity, knocking Conn out with two seconds left in the thirteenth round.[63]

The contest created an instant rivalry that Louis's career had lacked since the Schmeling era, and a rematch with Conn was planned for late 1942. The rematch had to be abruptly canceled, however, after Conn broke his hand in a much-publicized fight with his father-in-law, major league ballplayer "Greenfield" Jimmy Smith.[65] By the time Conn was ready for the rematch, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place, detouring Louis's heavyweight career.

World War II

Louis fought a charity bout for the Navy Relief Society against his former opponent Buddy Baer on January 9, 1942, which generated $47,000 for the fund.[13] The next day, he volunteered to enlist as a private in the United States Army at Camp Upton, Long Island.[66][67] Newsreel cameras recorded his induction, including a staged scene in which a soldier-clerk asked, "What's your occupation?" and Louis replied in a nervous rush, "Fighting and let us at them Japs."[68]

Another military charity bout on March 27, 1942 (against another former opponent, Abe Simon) netted $36,146.[13] Before the fight, Louis had spoken at a Relief Fund dinner, saying of the war effort: "We'll win, 'cause we're on God's side."[1] The media widely reported the comment, instigating a surge of popularity for Louis. Slowly, the press would begin to eliminate its stereotypical racial references when covering Louis, and instead treat him as an unqualified sports hero.[1] Despite the public relations boon, Louis's charitable fights would prove financially costly. Although Louis saw none of the roughly $90,000 raised by these and other charitable fights, the IRS would later credit these amounts as taxable income paid to Louis.[69] After the war, the IRS would pursue the issue.

For basic training, Louis was assigned to a segregated cavalry unit based in Fort Riley, Kansas. The assignment was at the suggestion of his friend and lawyer Truman Gibson, who knew of Louis's love for horsemanship.[66] Gibson had previously become a civilian advisor to the War Department, in charge of investigating claims of harassment against black soldiers. Accordingly, Louis used this personal connection to help the cause of various black soldiers with whom he came in to contact. In one noted episode, Louis contacted Gibson in order to facilitate the Officer Candidate School (OCS) applications of a group of African Americans at Fort Riley, which had been inexplicably delayed for several months.[70][71] Among the OCS applications Louis facilitated turned out to be that of a young Jackie Robinson, later to break the baseball color barrier.[70][72] The episode would spawn a personal friendship between the two men.[73]

Realizing Louis's potential for elevating esprit de corps among the troops, the Army placed him in its Special Services Division rather than deploying him into combat.[67] Louis would go on a celebrity tour with other notables including fellow boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.[68] Louis traveled more than 21,000 miles and staged 96 boxing exhibitions before two million soldiers.[13] In England during 1944, he was reported to have enlisted as a player for Liverpool Football Club as a publicity stunt.[74]

In addition to his travels, Louis was the focus of a media recruitment campaign encouraging African-American men to enlist in the Armed Services, despite the military's racial segregation. When asked about his decision to enter the racially-segregated U.S. Army, Louis' explanation was simple: "Lots of things wrong with America, but Hitler ain't going to fix them." In 1943, Louis made an appearance in the wartime Hollywood musical This Is the Army, directed by Michael Curtiz. Louis appears as himself in a musical number, "The Well-Dressed Man In Harlem," which emphasizes the importance of African-American soldiers and promotes their enlistment.

Louis's celebrity power was not, however, merely directed toward African Americans. In a famous wartime recruitment slogan, Louis echoed his prior comments of 1942: "We'll win, because we're on God's side." The publicity of the campaign made Louis widely popular stateside, even outside the world of sports.[4] Never before had white Americans embraced a black man as their representative to the world.[4]

Although Louis never saw combat, his military service would see challenges of its own. During his travels he would often experience blatant racism. On one occasion, a military policeman (MP) ordered Louis and Ray Robinson to move their seats to a bench in the rear of an Alabama Army camp bus depot. "We ain't moving," said Louis. The MP tried to arrest them, but Louis forcefully argued the pair out of the situation.[75] In another incident, Louis allegedly had to resort to bribery to persuade a commanding officer to drop charges against Jackie Robinson for punching a Captain who had called Robinson a "nigger."[71]

Louis was eventually promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and was awarded the Legion of Merit medal for "incalculable contribution to the general morale."[67][76] Receipt of the honor qualified Louis for immediate release from military service on October 1, 1945.[13][77]

Quotes Attributed to Joe Louis

  • Every man's got to figure to get beat sometime.
  • Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
  • I don't like money, actually, but it quiets my nerves.
  • I hope they're still making women like my momma. She always told me to do the right thing. She always told me to have pride in myself; she said a good name is better than money.
  • I made the most of my ability and I did my best with my title.
  • Let me tell you, that was a thrill. Now, even more, I knew I had to get Schmeling good.
  • Once that bell rings you're on your own. It's just you and the other guy…
  • Yeah, I'm scared. I'm scared I might kill Schmeling.
  • He can run, but he can't hide. (regarding Billy Conn, who planned to "hit and run" in their upcoming match)
  • You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

Quotes about Joe Louis

  • Every time I hear the name Joe Louis my nose starts to bleed.
    • Tommy Farr
  • He hit me 18 times while I was in the act of falling.
    • Max Baer
  • He was a credit to his race – the human race…
    • Jimmy Cannon, sportswriter
  • (I define fear as) standing across the ring from Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.
    • Max Baer
  • I just give lip service to being the greatest. He was the greatest. (Note: this quote is sometimes said to be about fellow boxer Sugar Ray Robinson)
    • Muhammad Ali
  • Joe Louis is the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. Rocky Marciano is second only to Louis. Where do I rate Ali? Somewhere below me. I beat him, and if I could beat him, no doubt Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano could have beaten him.
    • Joe Frazier
  • Joe Louis, to me, was the finest human being God put on this earth in every way.
    • Angelo Dundee
  • There's never been a boxer better than Joe Louis. You'd take one shot from him and you were sure he'd have seven or eight more coming for you. Certainly Muhammad Ali was the greatest man ever to fight, but not the greatest boxer.
    • George Foreman
  • When you're a great finisher, you’ll become popular. Joe Louis was a great finisher.
    • Mike Tyson

Later career and retirement

Louis emerged from his wartime service significantly in debt. In addition to his looming tax bill – which had not been finally determined at the time, but was estimated at greater than $100,000[68] – Jacobs claimed that Louis owed him $250,000.[78]

Despite the financial pressure on Louis to resume boxing, his long-awaited rematch against Billy Conn had to be postponed to the summer of 1946, when weather conditions could accommodate a large outdoor audience. On June 19, a disappointing 40,000 saw the rematch at Yankee Stadium,[68] in which Louis was not seriously tested. Conn, whose skills had deteriorated during the long layoff, largely avoided contact until being dispatched by knockout in the eighth round. Although the attendance did not meet expectations, the fight was still the most profitable of Louis's career to date. His share of the purse was $600,000 – of which Louis' managers got $140,000, his ex-wife $66,000 and the state of New York $30,000.[68]

After trouble finding another suitable opponent, on December 5, 1947 Louis met Jersey Joe Walcott, a 33-year-old veteran with a 44-11-2 record. Walcott entered the fight as a 10-to-1 underdog. Nevertheless, Walcott downed Louis twice in the first four rounds. Most observers in Madison Square Garden felt Walcott dominated the 15-round fight; when Louis was declared the winner in a split decision, the crowd booed.[68]

Louis was under no delusion about the state of his boxing skills, yet he was too embarrassed to quit after the Walcott fight. Determined to win and retire with his title intact, Louis signed on for a rematch. On June 25, 1948, about 42,000 people came to Yankee Stadium to see the aging champion, who weighed 213½ – the heaviest of his career to date. Walcott downed Louis in the third round, but Louis survived to knock Walcott out in the eleventh.[68]

Louis would not defend his title again before announcing his retirement from boxing on March 1, 1949.[79] In his bouts with Conn and Walcott, it had become apparent that Louis was no longer the fighter he once had been. As he had done earlier in his career, however, Louis would continue to appear in numerous exhibition matches worldwide.[13][79]

Post-retirement comeback

At the time of Louis's initial retirement, the IRS was still completing its investigation of his prior tax returns, which had always been handled by Mike Jacobs's personal accountant.[80] In May 1950, the IRS finished a full audit of Louis's past returns and announced that, with interest and penalties, he owed the government more than $500,000.[68] Louis had no choice but to return to the ring.

After asking Gibson to take over his personal finances and switching his management from Jacobs and Roxborough to Marshall Miles,[60][81] the Louis camp negotiated a deal with the IRS under which Louis would come out of retirement, with all Louis's net proceeds going to the IRS. A match with Ezzard Charles – who had acquired the vacant heavyweight title in June 1949 by outpointing Walcott – was set for September 27, 1950. By then, Louis was 36 years old, and had been away from competitive boxing for two years. Weighing in at 218, Louis was still strong, but his reflexes were gone. Charles repeatedly beat him to the punch. By the end of the fight, Louis was cut above both eyes, one of which was shut tight by swelling.[60] He knew he had lost even before Charles was declared the winner. The result was not the only disappointing aspect of the fight for Louis; only 22,357 spectators paid to witness the event at Yankee Stadium, and his share of the purse was a mere $100,458.[60] Louis had to continue fighting.

After facing several club-level opponents, the International Boxing Club guaranteed Louis $300,000 to face undefeated heavyweight contender Rocky Marciano on October 26, 1951.[68] Despite his being a 6-to-5 favorite, few boxing insiders believed Louis had a chance.[82] Marciano himself was reluctant to participate in the bout, but was understanding of Louis's position: "This is the last guy on earth I want to fight."[83] It was feared, particularly among those who had witnessed Marciano's punching power first hand, that Louis's unwillingness to quit would result in serious injury. Fighting back tears, Ferdie Pacheco said in the SportsCentury documentary about his bout with Marciano, "He [Louis] wasn't just going to lose. He was going to take a vicious, savage beating. Before the eyes of the nation, Joe Louis, an American hero if ever there was one, was going to get beaten up." Louis was dropped in the eighth round by a Marciano left, and knocked out of the ring less than thirty seconds later.

In the dressing room after the fight, Louis's Army touring companion, Sugar Ray Robinson, wept. Marciano also attempted to console Louis, saying, "I'm sorry, Joe."[68] "What's the use of crying?" Louis said. "The better man won. I guess everything happens for the best."[68]

After facing Marciano, with the prospect of another significant payday all but gone, Louis retired for good from professional boxing. He would, as before, continue to tour on the exhibition circuit, with his last contest taking place on December 16, 1951, in Taipei, Taiwan against Corporal Buford J. DeCordova.[13][79]

Champ Joe Louis in the US Army

National Archives and Records Administration public domain.

"World Heavyweight champ Joe Louis (Barrow) sews on the stripes of a technical sergeant--to which he has been promoted..." April 10, 1945

Taxes and financial troubles

Despite Louis's lucrative purses over the years, most of the proceeds went to his handlers. Of the over $4.6 million earned during his boxing career, Louis himself received only about $800,000.[13] Louis was nevertheless extremely generous to his family, paying for homes, cars and education for his parents and siblings,[84] often with money fronted by Jacobs.[85] He invested in a number of businesses, all of which eventually failed,[84] including the Joe Louis Restaurant, the Joe Louis Insurance Company, a softball team called the Brown Bombers, Joe Louis Milk Company, Joe Louis Punch (a drink), the Louis-Rower P.R. firm, a horse farm, and the Rhumboogie Café in Chicago.[86] He gave liberally to the government as well, paying back the city of Detroit for any welfare money his family had received.[84]

A combination of this largesse and government intervention eventually put Louis in severe financial straits. His entrusting of his finances to former manager Mike Jacobs haunted him. After the $500,000 IRS tax bill was assessed, with interest accumulating every year, the need for cash precipitated Louis's post-retirement comeback.[68][87] Even though his comeback earned him significant purses, the incremental tax rate in place at the time (90%) meant that these boxing proceeds did not even keep pace with interest on Louis's tax debt. As a result, by the end of the 1950s, he owed over $1 million in taxes and interest.[87] In 1953, when Louis's mother died, the IRS appropriated the $667 she had willed to Louis.[68] To bring in money, Louis engaged in numerous activities outside the ring. He appeared on various quiz shows,[87] and an old army buddy, Ash Resnick, gave Louis a job welcoming tourists to the Caesar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas, where Resnick was an executive.[87] For income, Louis even became a professional wrestler in the 1950s and 60s, and again as late as 1972.[68][88]

Louis remained a popular celebrity in his twilight years. His friends included former rival Max Schmeling – who provided Louis with financial assistance during his retirement[89] – and reputed mobster Frank Lucas – who, disgusted with the government's treatment of Louis, once paid off a $50,000 tax lien held against him.[90] These payments – along with an eventual agreement in the early 1960s by the IRS to limit its collections to an amount based on Louis's current income[68] – allowed Louis to live comfortably toward the end of his life.[84]

Desegregation of professional golf

One of Louis's other passions was the game of golf, in which he also played an historic role. He was a long-time devotee of the sport since being introduced to the game before the first Schmeling fight in 1936. Similar to subsequent black athletes such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, Louis was also known to mix gambling with his golf game.[45] In 1952, Louis was invited to play in the San Diego Open on a sponsor's exemption, becoming the first African American to play a PGA Tour event.[45] Initially, the PGA of America was reluctant to allow Louis to enter the event, having a bylaw at the time limiting PGA participation to Caucasians.[5] However, Louis's celebrity eventually pushed the PGA toward removing the bylaw, paving the way for the first generation of African American professional golfers such as Calvin Peete.[5] Louis himself financially supported the careers of several other early black professional golfers, such as Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, Clyde Martin and Charlie Sifford.[45] He was also instrumental in founding The First Tee, a charity helping underprivileged children become acquainted with the game of golf.[5] His son, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., currently oversees the organization.[45]

In 2009, the PGA of America granted posthumous membership to Ted Rhodes, John Shippen and Bill Spiller, who were denied the opportunity to become PGA members during their professional careers. The PGA also has granted posthumous honorary membership to Louis.[91]

Personal life and death

Louis had two children by wife Marva Trotter (daughter Jacqueline in 1943 and son Joseph Louis Barrow, Jr. in 1947) and adopted three others. They divorced in March 1945 only to remarry a year later, but were again divorced in February 1949.[68][92] Marva moved on to an acting and modeling career.[76][93] On Christmas Day 1955, Louis married Rose Morgan, a successful Harlem businesswoman; their marriage was annulled in 1958.[92] Louis's final marriage – to Martha Jefferson, a lawyer from Los Angeles, on St. Patrick's Day 1959 – lasted until his death. They had a child and also named him Joe, Jr. The younger Joe Louis Barrow, Jr lives in New York city and is involved in Boxing.[84][92]

Though married four times, Louis discreetly enjoyed the company of both African-American and white women, including Lena Horne, Sonja Henie, and Lana Turner.[20][84]

In 1953, Robert Gordon directed a movie about Louis's life, The Joe Louis Story. The movie, filmed in Hollywood, starred Golden Gloves fighter Coley Wallace in the role of Louis.[94]

Starting in the sixties Louis was frequently mocked by segments of the African American community (including Muhammad Ali) for being an Uncle Tom. Before Louis died Ali visited him in Vegas and personally apologized for having ever said such things.

Drugs took a toll on Louis in his later years. In 1969, he was hospitalized after collapsing on a New York City street. While the incident was at first credited to "physical breakdown,"[92] underlying problems would soon surface. In 1970, he spent five months at the Colorado Psychiatric Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Denver – hospitalized by his wife, Martha, and his son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr., for paranoia.[92] In a 1971 book, Brown Bomber, by Barney Nagler, Louis disclosed the truth about these incidents, stating that his collapse in 1969 had been caused by cocaine, and that his subsequent hospitalization had been prompted by his fear of a plot to destroy him.[92] Strokes and heart ailments caused Louis's condition to deteriorate further later in the decade. He had surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm in 1977 and thereafter used an Amigo POV/scooter for a mobility aid.[13][95]

Louis died of a heart attack in Desert Springs Hospital on April 12, 1981, just hours after his last public appearance viewing the Larry Holmes-Trevor Berbick heavyweight championship. Ronald Reagan waived the eligibility rules for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, and Louis was buried there with full military honours on April 21, 1981.[96][97] His funeral was paid for in part by former competitor and friend, Max Schmeling,[98], who also acted as a pallbearer.

Legacy

In all, Louis made 25 defences of his heavyweight title from 1937 to 1948, and was a world champion for 11 years and 10 months. Both are still records in the heavyweight division, the former in any division.[99] His most remarkable record is that he knocked out 23 opponents in 27 title fights, including 5 world champions.[100] In addition to his accomplishments inside the ring, Louis uttered two of boxings most famous observations: "He can run, but he can't hide" and "Everyone has a plan until they've been hit."[13][101]

Louis is also remembered in sports outside of boxing. An indoor sports venue is named after him in Detroit, the Joe Louis Arena, where the Detroit Red Wings play their NHL games.[102] In 1936, a beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune used Joe Louis's nickname to refer to the Winnipeg Football Club after a game. From that point, the team became known popularly as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.[103]

His recognition also transcends the sporting world. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Joe Louis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[104] On August 26, 1982, Louis was posthumously approved for the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to civilians by the U.S. legislative branch.[105] Congress stated that he "did so much to bolster the spirit of the American people during one of the most crucial times in American history and which have endured throughout the years as a symbol of strength for the nation."[106]

A memorial to Louis was dedicated in Detroit (at Jefferson Avenue & Woodward) on October 16, 1986. The sculpture, commissioned by Time, Inc. and executed by Robert Graham, is a 24-foot long arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot high pyramidal framework. It represents the power of his punch both inside and outside the ring. Because of his efforts to fight Jim Crow laws, the fist was symbolically aimed toward the south.[107]

On February 27, 2010 an 8 foot bronze statue of Louis was unveiled in his Alabama hometown. The statue sits on a base of red granite outside the Chambers County Courthouse.[108]

In 1993, he became the first boxer to be honored on a postage stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service.[109]

Various other facilities have been named after Joe Louis. A street near Madison Square Garden is named in his honour. The former Pipe O' Peace Golf Course in Riverdale, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) was in 1986 renamed "Joe Louis The Champ Golf Course."[110] American Legion Post 375 in Detroit is also named after Joe Louis.

In one of the most widely-quoted tributes to Louis, New York Post sportswriter Jimmy Cannon was known for the following statement (interjecting to another person's characterization of Louis as "a credit to his race"); "Yes, Joe Louis is a credit to his race – the human race."[111]

In 2009, the band Yeasayer came out with a song titled "Ambling Alp" which imagines what advice Joe Louis's father might have given him prior to becoming a prizefighter. The song references adversities and opponents, including Max Schmeling and Primo Carnera, Louis had to overcome in his career.[112]

Professional record

65 Wins (51 knockouts, 13 decisions, 1 disqualification), 3 Losses (2 knockouts, 1 decision) Source: BoxRec.com

In popular culture

  • In his heyday, Louis was the subject of many musical tributes, including a number of blues songs.[113]
  • Louis played a boxer in the 1938 race film Spirit of Youth.
  • In the 1988 movie Coming to America, Eddie Murphy's character Clarence states that Frank Sinatra once told him that Joe Louis was 137 years old, supposedly his age when he lost to Rocky Marciano.[114]
  • Louis is also mentioned in the song "Save me Joe Louis" by Curtis Eller's American Circus from the album Wirewalkers and Assassins.
  • Louis is played by actor Bari K. Willerford in the film American Gangster.
  • In 2009, the Brooklyn band Yeasayer debuted the single "Ambling Alp" from their forthcoming album Odd Blood. The song makes reference to Louis' boxing career and his famous rivalry with Schmeling in the first person, with the lyrics such as "Oh, Max Schmeling was a formidable foe / The Ambling Alp was too, at least that’s what I’m told / But if you learn one thing, you’ve learned it well / It’s true, you must give fascists hell."[115]

References and Notes

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Comments

Joe Louis is my favourite boxer. I say that the best boxers were Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Earnie Shavers and last but not least at the moment Amir Khan


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Comments on the Famous

I WILL ALWAYS LOVE CONWAY TWITTYS MUSIC MY FAVORITE SONG IS DID YOU KNOW THAT YOUR LOVE HAD TAKEN ME THAT HIGH  PATRICIA FROM DRYDEN ONT CANADA.
Charlotte is brill and cool singer
Can't wait until I can see the band perform. The music I grew up with, the connection with songs over the years gave me a better outlook on life.(57 years old). Let the music do the talking. Bryan Ferry

"he was an very good bowler….he had pace, bounce, swing….nearly all that you'd want from a top class cricketer" - Freddie Flintoff

In the culture and lack of morals media mudhole the 20th and 21st centuries have been, for FM to keep his privacy (basically) shows how he was loved Freddie Mercury

Martin Luther King i love u for getting black's and white's together....lol

Gerard Way - Most people think of him asxhot and sexy yes that's all true but his soul and the way he sings helped me threw my rough patch. that's why I love him.

So for everyone that has some thing to say you need not to give up and stick to what you have to say just like Rosa did

i WoUlDnT oF wAnT tO Of bEeN ArOuNd bAcK ThEn Dick Turpin

I like jacqueline wilson because she is amazing at writing books

Martin Luther King was the man love ya

She really made a difference. I hope she DID die without people using her name to make money. - Rosa Parks

love george love love love john r i p guys ur sadly missed xxxxxxx

oh 2pac miss u & i saw ur mama at my school!!!!!

you are the best person in the world! - Triple H

 

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