Louis Barrow (May 13,1914 - April 12,1981), best known as Joe Louis,
was an American professional boxer. He held the world heavyweight
championship from 1937 to 1949, and is considered to be one of the
greatest heavyweights of all time. Nicknamed the "Brown Bomber", Louis
helped elevate boxing from a decline in popularity in the post-Jack
Dempsey era by establishing a reputation as an honest, hardworking
fighter at a time when the sport was dominated by gambling interests.
Louis' championship reign lasted 140 consecutive months, during which
he participated in 26 championship fights; a 27th fight, against Ezzard
Charles, was a challenge to Charles' heavyweight title and so is not
included in Louis' reign. Louis was victorious in 25 title defenses,
a record for any division. In 2005, Louis was ranked as the #1 heavyweight
of all-time by the International Boxing Research Organization, and
was ranked #1 on The Ring magazines's list of the 100 Greatest Punchers
Louis' cultural inpact was felt well outside the
ring. He is widely regarded as the first African American to achieve
the status of a nationwide hero within the United Stated, and was
also a focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment leading up to and during
World War II. He was instrumental in integrating the game of golf,
breaking the sport's color barrier in America by appearing under a
sponsor's exemption in a PGA event in 1952.
Detroit's Joe Louis
Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League,
and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County's Joe Louis "The Champ"
Golf Course, situated south of Chicago in Riverdale, Illinois, are
named in his honor.
Born in rural Chambers County,
Alabama (in a ramshackle dwelling on Bell Chapel Road, located about
a mile off state route 50 and roughly six miles north of Lafayette),
Louis was the son of Munroe Barrow and Lillie (Reese) Barrow, the
seventh of eight children. He weighed 11 pounds at birth, and both
Louis's parents were the children of former slaves, alternating between
sharecropping and rental farming. Munroe was predominantly African
American with some white ancestry, while Lillie was half Cherokee.
spent twelve years growing up in rural Alabama, where little is known
of his childhood. He suffered from a speech impediment and spoke very
little until about the age of six. Munroe Barrow was committed to
a mental institution in 1916 and, as a result, Joe knew very little
of his biological father. Around 1920, Louis's mother married Pat
Brooks, a local construction contractor, having received word that
Munroe Barrow had died while institutionalized (in reality, Munroe
Barrow lived until 1938, unaware of his son's fame).
shaken by a gang of white men in the Ku Klux Klan, Louis's family
moved to Detroit, Michigan, forming part of the post World War I Great
Migration. Joe's brother worked for Ford Motor Company (where Joe
would himself work for a time at the River Rouge Plant) and the family
settled into a home at 2700 Catherine (now Madison) street in Detroit's
Black Bottom neighborhood.
Louis attended Bronson Vocational
School for a time to learn cabinet making and his mother attempted
to get him interested in playing the violin.
Depression hit the Barrow family hard, but as an alternative to gang
activity, Joe began to spend time at a local youth recreation center
at 637 Brewster Street in Detroit. Legend has it that he tried to
hide his pugilistic ambitions from his mother by carrying his boxing
gloves inside his violin case.
Louis made his debut in early
1932 at age 17. Legend has it that before the fight, the barely literate
Louis wrote his name so large that there was no room for his last
name, and thus became known as "Joe Louis" for the remainder of his
boxing career. More likely Louis simply omitted his last name to keep
his boxing pursuits a secret from his mother. After his debut - a
loss to future Olympian Johnny Miller - Louis compiled numerous amateur
victories, eventually winning the club championship of his Brester
Street recreation centre, the home of many aspiring Golden Gloves