Joe Louis Centennial Celebrated on Tuesday

Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest American athletes ever -- heavyweight boxing legend Joe Louis. Born in Alabama on May 13, 1914, Louis assembled a spectacular record of 66-3 with 52 wins by way of knockout. Winning the title from “Cinderella Man” Jim Braddock in 1937, Louis went on to make a record 25 defenses before retiring in 1948. Two of his losses -- to Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano -- came during a comeback in the early 1950s. During his tenure as champion, Louis served in the Army during World War II and was awarded the Legion of Merit.

While certainly not as outspoken as Muhammad Ali on civil rights and social and political issues, Louis was certainly active on the public stage. His fights against former heavyweight champ Max Schmelling were political events with the Nazi regime hyping the German fighter over the African-American Louis. Despite losing to Schmeling before he won the title, Louis defended his belt with a first-round knockout in the rematch. Louis also advocated for civil rights during his time in the Army, including helping his friend Jackie Robinson who, in later years, would break baseball’s color barrier by becoming the first African-American player in the major league.

Louis only fought in Florida once. Back in February 1951, the twilight of his career, Louis defeated Cuban heavyweight Omelio Agramonte in a 10-round decision in Miami. While he certainly tried to knock out Agramonte, Louis took some solace in his effort before a crowd of around 17,000. “I am happy to know that I am getting better all the time,” Louis told the press after the fight.

After drug and money problems, Louis passed away in 1981 at the age of 66. Fittingly for the fighter known as the “Brown Bomber,” Louis’ grave is very noticeable at Arlington National Ceremony, the dark headstone in sharp contrast with the traditional white ones. Buried with full military honors, Louis’ funeral was paid for in part by Schmeling who had grown close to his former rival after they ended their boxing careers. A century after his birth, Louis continues to rank as one of the greatest athletes this nation has ever produced.

 

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