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Joe Louis

Joe Louis

“I made the most of my ability and I did my best with my title.”

Joe Louis was always good with his hands, so he decided to study cabinetmaking. A classmate suggested he try boxing. He did. By the time he was 23, he was the heavyweight champion of the world, a title he held longer than any other man in history.

Louis, whose devastating left jab and hook earned him the nickname the Brown Bomber, was born Joseph Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914, in Lafayette, Alabama. He was the eighth child of Munn and Lilly Barrow. His father was committed to the state hospital when Louis was 2.

A better life

Like many blacks, the Louis family moved out of the Southern cotton fields seeking a better life “up north.” But the move to Detroit did not ease their poverty.

To help out, he and his brothers shined shoes, ran errands, and sold newspapers before and after school. Louis later found a job on an ice wagon, carrying blocks of ice up tenement steps. He later said it helped him develop his endurance and his fighting muscles.

In search of a trade, he attended Bronson Vocational School to learn cabinetmaking. A friend, Thurston McKinney, encouraged him to spend the 50 cents his mother gave him for weekly violin lessons on boxing lessons instead. With his mother none the wiser, he spent as much time as he could at the Brewster Street Recreational Center.

The gym prepared him for his light-heavyweight amateur boxing debut in 1932. He kissed the canvas in all three rounds of the mercifully short bout. There was nowhere to go but up, and that’s where he went.

After a successful amateur boxing career, Joe turned pro in 1934 and quickly established his dominance.

In 1935, two years before he became world champion, he beat two former titleholders. One was Max Baer.

He knocked Baer out in four rounds. Writer Ernest Hemingway described the bout as “the most disgusting public spectacle outside of a public hanging” that he had ever seen.

“He hit me 18 times while I was in the act of falling,” said Baer, who had never been knocked out before.

1n 1937, after defeating James Braddock by knockout in round eight, Louis was world heavyweight boxing champion. He remained champ from June 22, 1937, until March 1, 1949, longer than anyone else in history.

Louis died of a heart attack on April 12, 1981, in Las Vegas. He was 86. Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson eulogized Louis on April 17 from a pulpit in the boxing ring at Caesars Palace, where Louis had been a greeter and where he sat ringside just hours before his death.



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