In the second installment of our Black History Month Profile (the first being hall of famer Marion Motley) we will focus on a legendary figure; Joe Louis
During the great depression Louis took up the sport of boxing. His mother wanted him to take up violin but Louis wanted to box. So he would hide his gloves in his violin case. He stuck with the sport and started to make a name for himself in the Detroit Golden Gloves competition, but after a run in with the KKK his family moved to Chicago where Louis won the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament. He then turned pro in 1934
Louis had 69 professional fights in his career. He lost THREE of them. Louis is regarded as one of, if not the best boxer of all time. Louis held the Heavyweight title from 1937-1949. It was the longest reign in heavy weight history. He beat the “Cinderella Man” James Braddock to win his first heavyweight championship. Louis became a national hero when he defeated German boxer Max Schmeling in his fourth title defense. This was viewed as Axis VS Allies in a boxing ring with Louis representing the United States and Schmeling representing his home country. Avenging his first professional loss. The fight lasted a little over 2 minutes as 70,000 fans packed Yankee stadium to see Louis beat the breaks off of Schmeling.
Louis started the “bum of the month” club where he seemingly defended his title once a month and dismantled his opponent. No matter how highly ranked and talented his opponents were at the time. Louis was just THAT good, which led his critics to deem that he was fighting bums.
Louis enlisted in the United States Army and was put in the special services division, realizing that his stature as an athlete could do more good off the battle field, than on it. But even being the Heavy Weight Champion of the world, he experienced racism. He was ordered to get in the back of a bus by a military police officer and he refused to go. Much like Jackie Robinson. And Louis actually persuaded a commanding officer to drop the charges against Robinson when he refused to go to the back of the bus.
In 1946 Louis left the army and resumed his boxing career until 1951 when he was eventually knocked out by Rocky Marciano. It was his last fight of his career. But what do you do when youre the greatest heavy weight of all time and youre done fighting? You just go pro in another sport.
Louis picked up golf right before he took on Max Schmeling in 1936. He got so good at the game that he became the first black golfer to be invited to play on the PGA Tour. Even though he was a celebrity he still dealt with racism in golf, at times going to retrieve his ball and finding someone had relieved themselves in the hole knowing that Louis was next to tee off. Even though he was constantly in debt, he still would financially support other black golfers who were looking to make a name for themselves in the predominantly white sport of golf.
Louis died in 1981 of cardiac arrest. His legacy still stands today. He made 25 defenses of his heavy weight title. A title that he held for over 11 years. He was posthumously given the Congressional Gold Medal four months after his death. He also became the first boxer to be featured on a US Postage Stamp in 1993. The Detroit Redwings played in Joe Louis Arena from 1979-2018 until the team built a new arena and sold out to corporate money (in fairness the new arena is called Little Ceasers Arena and Little Ceasers is owned by the same family that owns the Redwings….but still. Corporate grossness.)
There isnt a list of “greatest boxers of all time” that doesnt feature Joe Louis in the top 5.