Today’s post is a more fun aspect of history, but important nonetheless. It can be argued that more musical tributes were written about Joe Louis than any other athlete in American history–a Black athlete accepted by both whites and Blacks.
The longest-running heavyweight boxing champion in history, from 1937 to 1949, Joe Louis was among the greatest and most influential athletes of the 20th century. A hero to African Americans beaten down by the Depression, discrimination and Klan violence, Louis would also become the first Black athlete widely accepted by whites as well.
The culminating moment of Louis’ career was the second fight between Louis and Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938. Schmeling, a symbol of Nazi Germany, was immediately cast as the villain (despite his own antipathy towards Hitler). Louis, incredibly, became an American hero overnight.
His defeat of Schmeling in two minutes and four seconds sent Black neighborhoods across America into wild celebrations, and create something of a mythic hero in Joe Louis. It would be a heroism belied by the still-rampant discrimination in American life through World War II.
Today’s video is a montage of Joe’s greatest hits. Yet it’s the audio that’s most important. Listen to the great blues ballad “Joe Louis was a Fighting Man” and you can get a glimpse of how much Joe Louis meant to people.
It’s also a pretty good tune. Enjoy.