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Joe Louis

Joe Louis: Hard Times Man

Randy Roberts
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Joe Louis
    Book Description:

    Joe Louis defended his heavyweight boxing title an astonishing twenty-five times and reigned as world champion for more than eleven years. He got more column inches of newspaper coverage in the 1930s than FDR did. His racially and politically charged defeat of Max Schmeling in 1938 made Louis a national hero. But as important as his record is what he meant to African-Americans: at a time when the boxing ring was the only venue where black and white could meet on equal terms, Louis embodied all their hopes for dignity and equality.

    Through meticulous research and first-hand interviews, acclaimed historian and biographer Randy Roberts presents Louis, and his impact on sport and country, in a way never before accomplished. Roberts reveals an athlete who carefully managed his public image, and whose relationships with both the black and white communities-including his relationships with mobsters-were far more complex than the simplistic accounts of heroism and victimization that have dominated previous biographies.

    Richly researched and utterly captivating, this extraordinary biography presents the full range of Joe Louis's power in and out of the boxing ring.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16885-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 A Land Without Dreams
    (pp. 1-23)

    If he lasts long enough, every fighter has the moment. Some experience it early—and it ends their careers. For others it comes later—and it ends their careers. And the rest? Well, they’re the real fighters.

    Accounts differ on when the moment happened in Joe Louis’ career. Maybe it was his first amateur fight. More likely it was his second. It doesn’t really matter. All that’s important is that Louis was a raw-boned youth, unschooled in the craft of boxing and badly mismatched. It was spring 1932, a hard time to be black in America. Black unemployment rates in...

  5. 2 Emperors of Masculinity
    (pp. 24-53)

    William Lyon Phelps, B.A. Yale, M.A. Harvard, and Ph.D. Yale, was the very model of rectitude. In his forty-one years as a literature professor at Yale he was known for his wide-ranging scholarship, astute critical pronouncements, and unimpeachable humanity. He was the quintessence of the gentleman scholar. In fact, it was Phelps who provided a lasting American definition of a gentleman when he pronounced, “This is the first test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible value to him.”

    Phelps, like many of Yale’s students and professors, came from a religious family. His father...

  6. 3 Tethered by Civilization
    (pp. 54-85)

    New York had pretty much seen it all, but the arrival of Joe Louis on May 15, 1935, at Grand Central Terminal was unprecedented. Never in the city’s long history of comings and goings had a black American created such a stir. He arrived like a visiting dignitary, dressed to the nines in a gray overcoat and fedora, white gloves, tan shirt and plaid suit, and green tie, and accompanied by a retinue of managers, trainers, cooks, and bodyguards. To provide security for the twenty-one-year-old fighter, two New York detectives joined counterparts from Chicago and Detroit. To provide spending money,...

  7. 4 He Belongs to Us
    (pp. 86-120)

    On the South Side of Chicago, in a tavern filled with nervous black patrons, aspiring novelist Richard Wright cupped a cigarette in his right hand and bent his ear toward the radio. He was a member of the Communist Party, but on this particular night he was not interested in the biracial struggle of the working-class masses. It was September 24, 1935, perhaps a half hour before the opening bell of the Joe Louis–Max Baer heavyweight fight, and Wright was pulling for Joe to knock out his white opponent. He was one of millions of black and white Americans...

  8. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 King Louis I
    (pp. 121-141)

    When Max Schmeling’s right sent Joe Louis to the canvas in the twelfth round, the radio was turned low at 2100 McDougall Avenue in Detroit, the home that Joe had bought for his mother. His stepfather, Patrick Brooks, had suffered a stroke the day before and was sleeping in a darkened bedroom. Although Louis’ mother, Lillie, was in New York for the fight, several of his brothers and sisters were huddled close to the radio “too stunned and sorrowful to move.” “I wish Mother wasn’t there to see it,” said Joe’s brother Lonnie. Dr. J. A. Moore, the family physician...

  10. 6 Red, White, Blue, and Black
    (pp. 142-172)

    With his lean face, clenched jaw, and steel-rimmed glasses, Lester Rodney had a hard, edgy, determined look that shouted political radicalism. He was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, class of 1936. If ever there was a time when it seemed natural for a young, left-leaning New York University night-school student to become a Communist, 1936 was it. “In the 1930s on any college campus in New York,” Rodney recalled, “if somebody wasn’t a Communist, socialist or a Trotskyist or some variation of radical, they were pretty much brain-dead.”¹ From a distance, the Soviet Union was the light that...

  11. 7 The Last Perfect Night
    (pp. 173-197)

    It had come to this. Joe Louis, the great Joe Louis, sitting in his corner after the twelfth round, his arms heavy at his sides, his legs feeling ancient, his face swollen and discolored, his title slipping away like a boat in the night. Across the ring, Billy Conn, the young, thin, confident, white matinee-handsome challenger, smiled. “This is easy,” Conn told his manager Johnny “Moonie” Ray. “I’m going to take this son-of-a-bitch out this round.” He could feel it. He knew with the same dead certainty that Louis had known so often that the end was near, that he...

  12. 8 Uncle Sam Says
    (pp. 198-231)

    Josh White longed to be the Joe Louis of the blues guitar—better than Robert Johnson, better than Leadbelly, the best. Beyond wanting to reach the top of his profession, White shared several other biographical similarities with the boxer. Born in the Deep South in 1914, in the same part of the country and the same year as Louis, he had had painful experiences with Jim Crow and other southern ways. As a child he had witnessed his father, Dennis White, being “beaten to a pulp” by a 280-pound sheriff and a deputy for the infraction of throwing a white...

  13. 9 An Old Man’s Dream
    (pp. 232-260)

    Rose Morgan was about to set up the projector for a visitor when her husband walked into the apartment with a few friends. Rose was Joe Louis’ second wife, but they had divorced three years before and she had married a successful lawyer, a “short, portly, manicured man” who was in form and personality as different from the former champion as was possible. Rose, however, was exactly the sort of woman Joe liked. Stunningly beautiful, perfectly groomed and dressed, she was a practical, successful business woman who, a half decade before, thought she could domesticate Joe but failed utterly. But...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 261-280)
    (pp. 281-292)
    (pp. 293-294)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 295-308)