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The son of Sharecropper, Joe Louis fought his way through the ranks of amateur and professional boxing, and winning the worlds heavyweight champion, a title he held from 1937-1949. Louis is perhaps best known for his legendary match up against German boxer Max Schmeling. Schmeling defeated Louis when they first fought in 1936, and in 1938 they had a rematch, the press imbued the bout with international political significance, being known for an epic match between Nazi ideology and American democratic ideals (even though Smeling was never a Nazi follower). When Louis defeated Schmeling by knockout in the first round, Louis became an American Symbol.
The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Joe Louis, during his time as the heavyweight champion of the world from 1937-1949, stood as a shining symbol of mythical and real American traits like racial fighter, mental strength, and infinate opportunity. Through a extrodinary combination of terrible events, an acceptable demeanor, elite handling, calm press coverage, great boxing talent, the American obsession with sports, and the peculiar goals of the heavyweight boxing champion, Louis became the most popular black in America and one of the most popular of all Americans.
Although Louis established a unbelievable record-he successfully defended 25 times in 12 years (four of which were spent in the army)-what helped immortalize him was the context in which his fights took place. In his 1935 defeat of the giant former Heavyweight Champion Primo Carnera, who was viewed as Benito Mussolini’s sidekick, Louis represented blacks who identified in its struggle against the bullying Italian enemies. By becoming the first black to hold the heavyweight championship in 22 years with his victory over James J. Braddock in 1937, Louis lifted the spirits of the black people in the beginning of the Great Depression.
At the same time, he gained white acceptance because of his willingness to avoid the bad behavior of the previous black champion, Jack Johnson, who had annoyed white Americans by not ‘knowing his place.’ By defeating German Max Schmeling in their second encounter in 1938, as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis gained power, Louis provided some assurance that America’s best could beat the best that Germany had to offer. Louis continued to win white approval after joining the army, although he never saw combat.
Besides his remarkable achievements and great popularity, Louis may be as important for what he did not accomplish as for what he did. Like many heroes he has been credited for much that he did not do. Commentators, for example, have overstated his impact on racist attitudes and practices. There is little evidence that Louis’s success or that other black athletes translated into a acceptance of blacks or recommended them for roles outside sports.
Where Louis did change attitudes among blacks. His position at the top of his sport, his celebrity status, and his public image helped bolster the confidence of a people whose heroes were rarely accorded white attention or respect. In the difficult time of war his decision to cooperate and become a symbol of a government that was far from fair to him and his people offered a constructive, not so good, course of action.
In the end, Joe Louis was another edition of the American myth of the self-made man-that anyone who is industrious, patriotic, and moral can rise from the very bottom to the top of society where wealth, power, and fame await him. As with Louis, not all heroic men are as they appear to be. Not only did he have a lot of help, but his wealth was more fabricated than real. For all his greatness as a boxer and a hero.
Three words best describe his personal life, excessive and not responsible. Louis lived far beyond his means, supported far too many charities, and lost a small fortune to golf hustlers alone. Worse was his notorious penchant for adultery, which cost him a loyal and loving wife. At the end of his boxing career, Louis had no money or family and faced an endless amount of federal tax debt, which the irs forgave after considerable legal and political pressure.
In his darker years years Louis struggled with a drug problem and served as a ‘greeter’ at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, where he shook hands with common folk, gambled with house money to attract others, and played golf with high rollers before failing health weakened him. Yet, Louis’s quote to be remembered at Arlington National Cemetery indicates his place in myth and history; for, right or wrong, this is the public record on which society judges its heroes. The grave site is in Section 7-A, below the tomb of the unknowns, in Arlington National Cemetery.
That’s where Joe barrow the son of Joe Louis will be at 10:30 a.m. on April 12 when a wreath will be laid upon the grave of his father, the legendary heavyweight champion, Joe Louis. For Joe, executive director of the first tee, it is fitting and important that the city of Detroit, where he grew up, remembers to honor the 25th anniversary of the Brown Bomber’s death. Louis died on April 12, 1981, in Las Vegas. He was born in Alabama, raised in Detroit and became the WHWC (worlds heavy weight champion) in 1937. He held the title until 1949, a record 11 years, eight months.
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