In the Game pp 47-92 | Cite as

In Sports the Best Man Wins

How Joe Louis Whupped Jim Crow
  • Theresa E. Runstedtler

Abstract

On June 22, 1938, when Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, won a decisive, first-round knockout in his revenge match against Nazi-promoted Max Schmeling, white America embraced the black heavyweight champion as a national hero. Amid increasing reports of Hitler’s imperialistic aggression and persecution of the Jews, the mainstream white press highlighted the bout’s worldwide implications, claiming Louis’s triumph as an American victory in the larger fight against fascism. As Heywood Broun of the New York World-Telegram mused, “One hundred years from now some historian may theorize, in a footnote at least, that the decline of Nazi prestige began with the left hook of a former unskilled autoworker.”1 Inspiring more than just a mere footnote, Louis’s 1938 win expanded into a celebrated epic of American patriotism and democracy. Brimming with postwar confidence in 1947, Louis’s close friend, Frank Sinatra, declared: “If I were the government official responsible for the job of making the rest of the world understand our national character and the ideals that motivate us, I would certainly make use of the case history of Joe Louis.”2

Keywords

Depression Fishing Arena Defend Dial 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Heywood Broun, New York World-Telegram, 1938,Google Scholar
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    In the early 1930s, the sport of boxing was on shaky ground, experiencing its own kind of depression. With the title changing hands almost yearly in the first part of the decade, public interest waned. Quickly becoming the sport’s biggest drawing card, Louis ushered in what some contemporary authors termed the pugilistic New Deal. See Alexander Johnson, Ten—And Out! The Complete Story of the Prize Ring in America (New York: Ives Washburn, 1936): 245.Google Scholar
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  42. 31.
    Although Carnera was a former world heavyweight champion, by 1935 his shady associations with gangsters like Al Capone, along with his participation in what many believed were fixed fights, was common knowledge in the boxing world. Moreover, his early days as a carnival sideshow act, in addition to his freakish size and frequent clumsiness in the ring, made him a kind of laughing-stock of the profession. For more biographical information on Carnera see Astor, chapter 7. Also see Clifford Lewis, The Life and Times of Primo Carnera (London: Athletic Publications, 1932). Lewis, in conjunction with Carn-era’s French manager Leon Sée, wrote this biography in defense of Carnera’s already tarnished image.Google Scholar
  43. 38.
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    Joe Louis, with Edna and Art Rust, Jr., Joe Louis: My Life (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978): 58.Google Scholar
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    Several secondary sources offer general analyses of the connections between Jim Crow in the South and Nazi Germany. See Glenda Gilmore, “An Ethiop Among the Aryans: African Americans and Fascism, 1930 to 1939,” unpublished manuscript; Stefan Kouhl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994);Google Scholar
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© Amy Bass 2005

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  • Theresa E. Runstedtler

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