Joe Louis Fought His Way Into the Hearts of White Americans Despite Rampant White Supremacy
Joe Louis wasn’t a “Negro hero”. He was an American hero.
Before Muhammad Ali, there was a son of an Alabama sharecropper named Joeseph Louis Barrow — more commonly known as Joe Louis.
Louis is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. He held the title of World Heavyweight Champion from 1937 to 1949 during what is often described as boxing’s “golden age.”
From 1934 to 1951, Joe Louis fought 71 matches and won 68 of them, 54 by knockout. — History.com
He became the first black heavyweight champion in twenty-two years after defeating James J. Braddock in 1937. He defended his championship twenty-five times in twelve years, and he spent four of those years in the military.
His impact out of the ring was just as huge as it was in the ring. He lifted the spirits of black people during the Great Depression. When he dominated Germany’s Max Schmeling in 1938 he stood as a symbol to show America could defeat whoever Germany put forward. This took place right as the Nazis gained their horrendous power.
Louis is described as the opposite of Jack Johnson, the black heavyweight champion before him. While Johnson blatantly antagonized white people, Louis showed humility.
While there’s no solid proof that Joe Louis’ success opened any doors for other black athletes or general acceptance, he still had an incredible impact among black people.
Louis was no superhero. He was human with gifted boxing hands. However, his legacy is legendary. Black people didn’t have many idols to look up to. Joe Louis was well loved by both blacks and whites, which was terribly rare. This gave black people hope for being respected well too. He boosted black men’s confidence. He gave black kids someone to look up to.
Louis became an American hero after he knocked Schmeling out in the first round during a time where black people were seen as less than scum. Black men had just been given full citizenship in 1868, even though that didn’t mean much of anything. Ten years after black men were allowed to vote, be elected into office, and serve on juries, federal troops withdrew from the South and everything was snatched away from them.
Jim Crow laws were created to make the consistent theft of black peoples’ rights legal in the South. However, here you have Joe Louis — a black man — being proclaimed an American hero. Not a negro hero, but an American hero. He planted a seed of hope in the hearts of black men and watched it bloom with each successful title defense he won.