Louis was 'what his own community needed him to be'
Joe Louis' success in the ring may not have ended racial segregation in America, but it did help pave the way for future generations of civil rights activists.
Throughout her history, America has experienced good times and bad times.Today, she's going through a very different time: The economy is struggling and the war in Iraq shows no sign of abating. During tough times, America has relied heavily on her people. African-Americans have played significant roles in helping the nation right its ship. And few Americans, black or white, have contributed to the nation's social development quite like Joe Louis. His impact on American society still resonates. To call him the greatest heavyweight ever would simply be disrespectful. Louis' accomplishments and sacrifices during the 1930s and '40s have helped shape the course of American society, especially race relations. It began on June 19, 1936. Louis had won his first 27 professional fights and there was talk of a potential title shot against then-heavyweight champion James Braddock. Getting a shot at the heavyweight title was no small matter. Heavyweight champion was the most prestigious honor in sports then, and no African-American had received a shot at it since Dec. 26, 1908, when Jack Johnson -- the first black world heavyweight titleholder -- defeated Tommy Burns. In the segregated America of the 1930s, having a black man as heavyweight champion was of extreme importance in the black community. It would send a message to white America that given equal opportunity, African-Americans could succeed and be productive citizens. This ideal wasn't lost on Louis, who had become a highly celebrated figure among African-Americans. There was no doubt in Louis' mind that he'd be the second black world heavyweight champ. But first, he had to dispose of Max Schmeling. The fight with Schmeling was viewed by Louis as a formality. He was a huge favorite and no one envisioned him having difficulty coming away victorious. Everyone sang his praise months before the bout and Louis heard each chorus. But with the hopes of an entire community on his shoulders, Louis failed to train properly. He partied hardy. And on fight night, Schmeling took him to school. Louis was stopped in 12.
Joe Louis was a reflection of his era. Joe Louis was a hero and what his own community needed him to be.
-- Civil rights activist Bob Law
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