Louis, Joe (1914–1981)

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Joe Louis (1914–1981)

In the 1930s, prizefighter Joe Louis emerged as the nation's first African American sports hero. Born Joseph Louis Barrow in Alabama, the "Brown Bomber" held one of boxing's most impressive career records: seventy-one fights, sixty-eight wins, and fifty-four knockouts. However, his greatest achievement was his universal popularity despite America's racial divide.

Louis became a national hero with his 1938 victory over German Max Schmeling (1905–). Their fight was one of the most celebrated events in boxing history. The fight came to symbolize the political conflicts between the United States and Nazi Germany (though Schmeling was not a Nazi). Louis was soon the world's most famous black man and was a source of pride to millions of African Americans. Whites also responded to the champ's appealing personality and admired him for postponing his career to enlist in the army during World War II (1939–45). Louis held the world heavyweight championship from 1939 until 1949, when he retired. Louis's later years were plagued with drug abuse and financial problems. Still, he is remembered as a boxing legend and an early pioneer in the civil rights movement (see entry under 1960s—The Way We Lived in volume 4).

—Charles Coletta

For More Information

Gordon, Robert, director. The Joe Louis Story (film). United Artists, 1953.

Jakoubek, Robert E. Joe Louis: Heavyweight Champion. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Joe Louis: The Boxer Who Beat Hitler (video). A & E Network, 2001.

Joe Louis: The Brown Bomber.http://www.cmgww.com/sports/louis/louis.html (accessed February 13, 2002).

Lipsyte, Robert. Joe Louis: A Champ for All America. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.