Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Louis, Joe

As the world’s heavyweight boxing champion for a record 12 years (1937-1949), Joe Louis was more universally admired than any African-American man before him.  Known as the “Brown Bomber,” he dominated prize fighting and forced America to re-examine its segregationist policies and attitudes.  His fists destroyed the myth of white supremacy and his quiet dignity and exemplary patriotism opened the door for the wave of black athletes who followed.

Joe Louis Barrow, the son of an Alabama sharecropper, came to Detroit in 1926 at the age of twelve.  At the age of twenty, he quit his assembly line job and became a professional fighter.  During a 17 year career he compiled a 68-3 record, with 54 knockouts.

Some of his most famous bouts carried political overtones in the years before World War II.  As Hitler and Mussonlini seized power in Europe, Joe Louis destroyed their “master race” theories by defeating Italian giant Primo Carnera and German “superman,” Max Schmeling.  Columnist Jimmy Cannon immortalized Louis as “a credit to his race – the human race.”

Joe Louis died in 1981.  Detroit continues to honor his memory with a sports arena, a statue in the lobby of Cobo Hall, and “The Fist,” a bronze sculpture at the intersection of Woodward and Jefferson Avenue.

 


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