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Joe Lewis

United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

Joe Lewis

February 27, 2019

Joe “Brown Bomber” Louis was an African American boxer, who held the world heavyweight championship title from 1937-1949, he was also known as one of the greatest boxers in the world. Joe Louis was born Joseph Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914, in Lafayette, Alabama.

He was the grandson of slaves and the seventh child of eight children of a sharecropper and laundress. Louis’s family endured financial issues, where the children had to sleep three to four in a bed and his father was committed to an asylum when he [Joe] was two years old. Not long after Louis’s father was committed, his mother, Lillie Barrow remarried Patrick Brooks and migrated the family North to Detroit, where Louis attended Bronson Trade school learning to be a cabinet maker. He was soon forced to take odd jobs when his step-father lost his job.

Library of Congress

During his youth Louis hung out with a local gang, his mother didn’t take a liking to it, so she made him take violin lessons. Louis used the money from violin performance to begin training at the Brewster Recreation Center, where his friend introduced Louis to the world of boxing. In 1932, Louis began fighting under the name “Joe Louis” so his mother wouldn’t find out, as it was the beginning of his boxing career. It wasn’t an instant success, he was beaten by 1932 Olympian, Johnny Miller, where he proved he could hit harder than anybody else.

Two years later, his skills caught up to his punching power, which helped him win Detroit’s Golden Gloves Lightweight and Amateur Union championship titles and having a record of 50 wins out of 54 matches and 43 of them knockouts. June of 1936, Louis was defeated by German Boxer Max Schmeling with a knockout in the 12th round it was also the first time Louis lose within his professional career. In 1938, Louis became the heavyweight champion by defeating “Cinderella Man” James J. Braddock. Louis was given the nickname “Brown Bomber” for knocking out Max Schmeling (in a rematch), thus becoming a national hero and established a record by retaining the championship for 12 years in 1942.

On October 26, 1951, Louis was defeated by American boxer Rocky Marciano ending in an eight-round TKO [technical knockout], thus causing Louis to retire with a record of 68-3, which includes 54 knockouts. After retiring, Louis had some financial problems, which resulted in him becoming a greeter at casinos and being a referee for both boxing and wrestling. He soon became addicted to cocaine and began having heart problems. Louis passed away on April 12, 1981.

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