(born Joseph Louis Barrow)
1914 – 1981
American Boxer, Heavyweight Division; 6' 2", 200 pounds
Sports Ranking 9th of 12
1993 U.S. stamp.
Joe Louis was the first African-American sports hero and an inspiration for all the boxers that followed. Louis holds the longest reign in history, in the heavyweight boxing division, over 11 years, from June 22, 1937 - March 1, 1949. He successfully defended his title 25 times.
“Louis was the first black man to achieve lasting fame and popularity in the twentieth century,” explains Chris Mead in Champion—Joe Louis, Black Hero in White America. Louis’s second fight in 1938 against German Max Schemling drew over 70 million Americans to the radio and 100 million worldwide, the largest audience in history for anything. Louis won by knockout in the first round. Besides Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, few people were more significant national figures in the transition of race relations that occurred between the 1930s and the 1960s. It was Joe Louis who cracked the door open for Jackie Robinson, and together they heralded the integration of professional sports. In 1952 Louis was the first African-American to play in a Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) event, the San Diego Open.
Key References: Champion Joe Louis: Black Hero in White America by Chris Mead, 1985; Film – Spirit of Youth, with Joe Louis, 1938, 68 minutes.