Friday, February 4, 2011

Celebrate Black History in Detroit Series: The "Brown Bomber" Joe Louis


February is Black History Month and FREEISMYLIFE plans to re-print some of the great African-American biographies that are showcased on the Wayne State University Detroit African American Project website.

Today, let's learn about Detroit and the Brown Bomber
Mr. Joe Louis

Joe Louis was one of the greatest heavyweight boxing champions in the world. His victories in the ring and his personal dignity in public paved the way for equal rights for African-American athletes in boxing and other sports.

Joseph Louis Barrow was born on May 13, 1914 in La Fayette, Alabama, in a family of sharecroppers, the seventh child of Munroe and Lillie Barrow. His father died a few years later, and the family moved to Detroit in 1924. After struggling through public education, learning cabinet-making in a vocational school and working at odd jobs, Joe got involved in amateur boxing at the Brewster Recreational Center. During this period of hard work and determination, he met African-American entrepreneurs John Roxborough and Julian Black, who became his managers and successfully promoted his boxing career. Though later fighting more often in the arenas of New York and Chicago, Louis always considered Detroit his hometown. During his career, he started and sponsored a Detroit softball team, the Brown Bombers, bought businesses for friends, and generously gave away to the poor.

Starting with his first significant victory in 1934, the Golden Gloves title from the National Amateur Athletic Union, Louis was virtually invincible until he retired as an undefeated World Heavyweight Boxing Champion 15 years later. He gained the title in 1937 in a fight against James Braddock in Chicago. His only loss during this period was to German Max Schmeling in 1936, who he later defeated in 1938. The rematch, which had earned Louis the admiration of black and white Americans alike, was viewed as a fight of the representative of American values against a symbol of Nazism. In 1942, Joe Louis started his four-year-long Army service, working as a physical education teacher, fighting exhibitions for troops and quietly breaking racial barriers in segregated armed forces. After his retirement from sports in 1949 and an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1950-51, Louis worked as a casino host in Las Vegas, Nevada, until his death in 1981.

Over the course of his fascinating career, Joe Louis set some records that still stand unbeaten in the boxing world. He held the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship for 12 years, longer than any other man in history. He successfully defended his title 25 times, more times than any other heavyweight in history, and scored 21 knockouts in the course of those 25 wins. Of his 68 professional victories in 71 bouts, 54 were by knockout. More than that, he became white America's first black hero, thus leading the way for other African-American athletes and contributing to national unity and patriotism.

Flicker Photo Credit : All rights reserved by sixate
The main indoor sporting arena in Detroit is named after Louis. In the lobby is a bronze statue of the "Brown Bomber."

The Joe Louis Fist in Detroit's Hart Plaza: AP File Photo
This article was re-printed from the Wayne State University Detroit African American Project website.  Check it out for more biographies.


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