Towering at 6’2,” Louis was nicknamed “The Brown Bomber” for his heavy fists, indomitable will, and caramel skin tone. Louis’ career is also notable because he is universally regarded as the first African-American sports hero and achieved fame during a tense time leading up to World War II. On this day in 1938, Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling, a German fight legend who defeated him two years earlier.
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Schmeling’s win over Louis in 1936 was seen as a major victory for pro-Nazi Germans on the heels of the burgeoning events of World War II. Sportswriter Patrick Myer said at the time, “Schmeling was feted in Germany, especially by the Nazis. You know, they trumpeted him as the perfect specimen of Aryan superiority — beating the Black American, of course — and he was the Nazi hero.”
In 1938, however, Joe Louis would have to rise above harsh conditions, especially for an African-American athlete. Segregation and racism permeated nearly every facet of Louis’ life, yet he remained a staunch patriot and fought gallantly. However, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler used Schmeling’s previous win over Louis as a nod toward so-called Aryan superiority.
Louis and Schmeling fought in Yankee Stadium in front of thousands of spectators, with millions listening via radio around the world. The fight was a brief affair. Louis battered Schmeling during the first round, forcing the German to a standing eight count and flooring him three times afterward.
Schmeling’s corner threw in the towel just before the first round bell rang.
WATCH Louis KO Schmeling In The 1st Round
The win was symbolic for America, and Whites in the country had no choice but to rally behind Louis – the son of a sharecropper and descendant of slaves. Joe Louis would later say of the fight, “I knew I had to get Schmeling good. I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending on me.”
For his efforts, Joe Louis was heralded and beloved, although his quiet nature and refusal to be militant caused many to unfairly paint him as an Uncle Tom. In 1993, many years after his passing, Lewis became the first boxer honored on a postage stamp.
The Detroit native was dignified and proud, even though he was not the most eloquent at times. His stern and steady demeanor coupled with his love of America despite her crimes against his people spoke volumes about his character.
We salute Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, an American hero and boxing legend.