Joe Louis: The man who saved America

Joe Louis
Joe Louis

Background Info

Joe Louis was born in the year of 1914 in Lafayette, Alabama. Being an African-American in this period of time was very difficult, there were little to no job opportunities and no respect whatsoever. Almost everything was segregated back then, even the littlest things, whether it be going to the bathroom or even getting a drink of water. Many people who observed Joe Louis's fighting style have theorized that he received his immense aggression and instinct of anger from his experiences with segregation and racial discrimination. Louis was an unstoppable machine of agility and pure strength. His many athletic abilities served as an image of sheer athleticism to all many aspiring athletes across the globe. -Noah Banasiewicz

Although many people do not recognize the name Joe Louis, he was still a great man. Although best known for his boxing career, he also donated his money to the army and gave hope to all the African-Americans that listened to his matches. In fact,"He played a strong role in the black movement by providing inspiration to a generation of youngsters and to the later generations to whom he had become a legend". (Hornsby,481) When he was a teenager, Joseph Louis Barrow went to vocational school to learn how to make cabinents so he could help support his family, as he was the 8th child in his family and had to sleep 3 to a bed. At the request of a schoolmate, he began boxing, taking the name of "Joe Louis" to avoid his mom finding out about his boxing. After winning 50 out of 54 amatuer bouts, two men: John Roxborough and Julian Black noticed him and even convinced him to take up professional boxing in 1934. Every fight was won for his 1st 27 fights. But, when he fought Max Schmeling, Joe Louis received his 1st professional loss. Soon after he became the World Heavyweight champion, defeating James Braddock for the title. However, Louis did not feel like a champion, so decided to have a rematch with Max Schmeling with the title on the line since Schmeling was the one man who had beaten him. The rematch was "promoted as a battle between democracy and facism" especially considering Schmeling was German and Hitler supported Schmeling. (Joe Louis and the Jews, 7) After winning the fight, Joe Louis became a hero, even becoming the first African-American hero to garner support through the white community. Jimmy Cannon, a sports reporter even said this after Louis' victory: "Yes, Joe Louis is a credit to his race--the human race". (Schwartz, 7) -Caleb Barbachem
A WWII Ad with Joe Louis in it
A WWII Ad with Joe Louis in it

Joe Louis in his rematch against Max Schmeling
Joe Louis in his rematch against Max Schmeling

With his victory, Americans everywhere began to gain confidence about fighting the Nazis if they had to. His championship reign lasted from 1937-1949, when he retired. In 1942, Louis enlisted in the army, however; when he returned home the IRS told him that he was in debt $1.2 million. He took up different jobs totry to pay off his debt like returning to the ring, and wrestling. The IRS finally stopped asking for the rest of the money so he may live, and have money to support himself. In 1969 he collapsed due to a physical breakdown, later admitted by him in a book he wrote that it was due to cocaine. In 1977, Joe Louis was confined to wheelchair. On April 12th, 1981 he died of a heart attack in Las Vegas. At the request of Ronald Reagan, Louis was buried in the Arlington National graveyard. -Caleb Barbachem

International Baccalaureate Connection

The IB Learner Traits that Joe Louis possesses are knowledgeable, risk-taker, and reflective. Joe Louis is knowledgeable by having a rematch with Schmeling even though he knew what the consequences were if he lost his title to the German. He is a risk-taker by putting his life on the line every match so he could win and give those who were "trodden and despised people" hope and joy knowing that in the segregated world, African-Americans still had a hero to look up to in the present days. Reflectivness comes in when Louis looks back on his fighting technique after each match and tries to fix his weak points, especially in his defense, this is how he defeated Schmeling in the rematch they had.- Caleb Barbachem

Connection to Historical Events

As mentioned before, Joe Louis served as a global image of athleticism to many people, especially African-Americans. Louis's perseverance and determination gave many African-Americans hope that with the right attitude and work ethic, they could become successful too. I find this very similar to another athlete, Jackie Robinson. Robinson was also an African-American man who wanted to become successful but faced the many obstacles of racial discrimination as well, after all he was a black man entering the sport known as "Americas Pass Time" on the national level. However, Robinson proved to be an incredible gentleman as well as an amazing athlete, thus winning the hearts of many Americans. Robinson and Louis both served as symbols of hope to the African-American race that equality would soon be established and become a true "Land of the Free".
For more info on Jackie Robinson, please visit
-Noah Banasiewicz


Personal Connection

As stated before, Joe Louis was a major role model to many aspiring athletes, and although I am not a boxer, I find myself astounded and encouraged by Louis's achievements. I am an athlete myself, I played soccer for 8 years and am currently playing my second year of club volleyball, and I understand that hard work and true determination are key factors to achieving your goals. What truly motivates me about Joe Louis is how he was able to do 10 times the work I could even dream of performing, while being thrown down and disrespected everywhere he went. I have never experienced racial discrimination, and I'm positive if I did it would effect my performance, however, Joe Louis was able to fight through those difficulties and push on. Therefore, I often think of Joe Louis and his experiences and his ability to overcome them whenever I may be doubting or feeling bad about my performance. -Noah Banasiewicz

Health and Social Connection

"When Joe Louis fought, blacks in ghettos across the land were indoors glued to their radios and when, as he nearly always did, they hit the streets whooping and hollering in celebration". (Mcgowen 49) Louis became the 1st black athlete to "crossover" to the white fan base. (Margolick 5) Joe Louis made decisions for himself, like wanting a rematch with Schmeling to feel like a real champion beating the only person who had ever defeated him before. Louis also affected his own health putting himself in danger to keep America healthy, and when he took drugs. Due to the drugs, Louis was confined to wheelchair for the last 4 years of his life.


WARNING: This video contains footage of Joe Louis in a few of his bouts, these images may be found to be gruesome to some viewers.

-Noah Banasiewicz

This second video is a documentary on the career and life of Joe Louis. We understand this is a rather long video, we don't require you to view it, it is solely for your viewing pleasure.

-Noah Banasiewicz


Hornsby, Alton, Jean Black Well Hutson, William C. Matney, Carole McCullough and Jessie Carney Smith African American Biography Ed. Brenda Mitchell-Powell Vol. 4. Detroit, MI: U X L, 1994. Print.
"Joe Louis and the Jews." Joe Louis and the Jews. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

Margolick, David. "Introducing Joe Louis to a New Generation." N.p., 8 Apr. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

Mcgowen, Deane. "Joe Louis, 66, Heavyweight King Who Reigned 12 Years, Is Dead.", 13 Apr. 1981. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

Schwartz, Larry. 'Brown Bomber' Was Hero to All. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

“The Official Site of Joe Louis.” The Official Site of Joe Louis. Estate of Joe Louis, 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2013.