Joe Louis was born Joseph Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914 to sharecroppers Munroe and Lillie Reese Barrow in Lafayette, Alabama. He was the seventh of eight children. After his father was admitted to a mental institution, his mother re-married Patrick Brooks in 1920. Eventually this union of marriage would move the family to Detroit, Michigan. The move to Detroit set the stage boxing for Joe’s exceptionally boxing career and the world would come to know him as the “Brown Bomber.”
As a child, Joe had a speech impediment and this made learning challenging for him. He was placed in classes with younger children due to his lack of education while growing up in the south. The school decided to transfer him to Bronson Vocational School, where one teacher expressed Joe would “some day should be able to do something with his hands.”
While his mother encouraged him to play the violin, he took up boxing instead. In 1931 at the age of 17, he introduced himself as an amateur boxer. Since he failed to add his last name on the application, he was given the name “Joe Louis.” He lost his first amateur fight. Later, at the age of twenty he won the National Amateur Athletic Union light-heavyweight championship and turned professional.
It appeared that Joe had a promising career ahead, but winning the world heavyweight championship title looked vague. The reason for this ambiguity was because the first black boxing champion, Jack Johnson had enraged whites with his triumph defeats, dating of white women, and his financial success. Therefore, blacks were banned from fighting for championship titles. His trainer, managers and Mike Jacobs, a promoter worked on polishing his public image to attract title fighters. One requirement was not to appear in public with white women. This requirement, his outstanding record of thirty winnings in thirty-one fights, stories of his rooted love for family and country, and religious would ultimately present him a shot for winning a championship title fight. By 1935, he had won eighteen professional fights.
Up to June 19, 1936, Joe had never been beaten until his bout with German heavyweight champion of the world boxer, Max Schmeling (1930-1932). Joe was heavily favored, but Schmeling knocked him out in the 12th round. Two years later, in a rematch Joe (heavyweight champion of the world by now) knocked out Schmeling in the first round in 124 seconds at Yankee Stadium.
On June 6, 1937, nicknamed by the white press as “Brown Bomber” Joe stepped into the ring at Cromiskey Park in Chicago Illinois and won the world heavy weight championship title when he defeated Jim Braddock in an eighth-round knockout.
Between 1938 and 1941, Joe defeated fifteen challengers to secure his title. Joe enlisted in the army as a private after the United States declared war on Japan. He served in the army during World War II, performing boxing matches around the world at military establishments. After returning home in 1945 he fought Billy Conn for a second time and earned his largest purse of his career-$625,916.44.
After three more fights, on March 1,1949, Joe “threw in the towel” and retired from boxing. He held the title for 11 years and 8 months, and currently has the longest record for holding the world heavy weight title. He defended his title 25 times.
As world champion, Joe earned more than 4.6 million dollars, but only received $800,000. One source stated he earned “only a fraction of the more than two million dollars he won before 1942, because his trainer and managers were taking huge pay cuts. Unfortunately, this made future financial difficulties for him with the IRS and promoters; whereas he returned to ring in 1950 to fight Ezzard Charles and lost. In 1951, he was knocked out by Rocky Marciano and after this lost he retired for good.
After years of boxing, Joe find himself broke, ”I just don’t know where the money went. I wish I did. I got 50 percent of each purse and all kinds of expenses came out of my cut.” He would eventually move to Las Vegas and work as a greeter in a casino.
In his later years, he struggled with cocaine addiction, heart trouble, and depression. On April 12, 1981, Joe Louis died of a massive heart attack. He was 66 years old.
Joe Louis left a wonderful legacy with his boxing style with 66 wins (52 knockouts), 3 loses (2 knockouts). http://boxrec.com/boxer/9027 . Besides, his fame and success in boxing,black people saw him as a symbol of hope of fighting racism in America. He was the hero for black people of his time.
He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.