Joe Louis: Hard Times Man
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Joe Louis defended his heavyweight boxing title an astonishing twenty-five times and reigned as world champion for more than eleven years. He got more column inches of newspaper coverage in the 1930s than FDR did. His racially and politically charged defeat of Max Schmeling in 1938 made Louis a national hero. But as important as his record is what he meant to African-Americans: at a time when the boxing ring was the only venue where black and white could meet on equal terms, Louis embodied all their hopes for dignity and equality.
Through meticulous research and first-hand interviews, acclaimed historian and biographer Randy Roberts presents Louis, and his impact on sport and country, in a way never before accomplished. Roberts reveals an athlete who carefully managed his public image, and whose relationships with both the black and white communities—including his relationships with mobsters—were far more complex than the simplistic accounts of heroism and victimization that have dominated previous biographies.
Richly researched and utterly captivating, this extraordinary biography presents the full range of Joe Louis’s power in and out of the boxing ring.
the fight and Louis’ impact on America and the world: American Experience: The Fight (PBS, 2003) and Joe Louis: American Hero … Betrayed (HBO, 2008). CHAPTER 7 Mike Vaccaro gives vivid descriptions of 1941’s significant sporting feats in 1941: The Greatest Year in Sports (2007), as does Richard Ben Cramer in Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life (2000), Michael Seidel in Streak: Joe DiMaggio and the Summer of ’41 (1988), Leigh Montville in Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero (2004),
smash Jeffries—But the thought is too awful to contemplate.”37 An edgy anticipation marked the Fourth of July celebrations. America’s attention leaned toward the sun-baked ring in Reno where thousands of spectators had crowded into a hastily built arena. The sky was crystalline in the desert air, Reno a perfect jewel edged by mountains. Inside the arena a band played “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” “All Coons Look Alike to Me,” “America,” and “Dixie.” Like the music, the mood of the spectators
Joe Louis. As a writer for the Daily Worker explained, “Joe Louis threw a leather-packed stick of dynamite at Jim Braddock’s chin and it exploded in Harlem!”69 It exploded in other places as well. “Like a gigantic spring unloosed,” the black population of “St. Louis’ Harlem” began celebrating “after Joe Louis’ hand was raised as heavyweight boxing champion of the world.”They blocked traffic, forming long dancing parades, weaving through the streets shouting “Who won the fight?” and “Who’s the
the fight!” he said. “It was that quick.”75 Roy Wilkins also missed the first minute of the fight. He reached his seat just as Louis began to land his best shots. Wilkins did not have time to sit or even remove his coat, but he saw the last minute. And all things considered, he believed that it “must have been the shortest, sweetest minute of the entire thirties.”76 The hundred million people listening to the fight on the radio were even more mystified about the exact order of events. McCarthy’s
full shot at him—and if I get a full shot—well, he just ain’t gonna be there long.” And if Conn decided not to fight toe-to-toe and use his exceptional footwork, Louis had an answer for that as well: “He can run, but he can’t hide.” Banter was common in the weeks and days before a fight. John Kieran wrote in his column in the New York Times that all big fights follow the same pattern: The champ is old and slow, the challenger is young and hungry; the champ has “no brains,” the challenger is “no