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Joe Louis was born and raised in Detroit Michigan. Although throughout his life he lived in many places including Las Vegas and Chicago, he still always considered Detroit home.
Officially Joe Louis Barrow, Joe was born in the foothills of Alabama to his mother Lillie and father Muroe Barrow on May 13, 1914. Munroe was a sharecropper, but was committed to an asylum when Joe was only two, and died when he was four. Following this his mother got a job doing washing to support her eight children, but eventually married Patrick Brooks when Joe was seven. Their large family, Lillie's eight children and Patrick's eight children, moved into an eight room house on Detroit's Macomb street in 1926. Here Joe began to go to school at first Duffield and then Bronson, two vocational schools, until he was seventeen.
While he was going to school, Joe also held two jobs, one before class and one after. Before school he worked at Detroit's Eastern Market, and after at Pickman and Dean an ice company. Joe credited much of his upper body strength and muscularity to this job saying that carrying the ice blocks (up to fifty pounds a piece) developed him.
When he was sixteen, his mother would give him money for violin lessons, which he would turn around and use to rent a locker at an amateur boxing club. Although not happy when she found out what he had been using the violin lesson money on, Lillie simply encouraged Joe to do his best. His abbreviated name of Joe Louis began when he filled out his first set of paperwork to fight and did not have enough room for Barrow. Thus, Joe Louis became a legend instead of Joe Louis Barrow.
After being defeated early on in his career, Joe got a job working at Ford, but soon quit when his amateur boxing career took off. After being trained for a while his coaches encouraged him to pair up with a more experienced, connected coach so Joe found George Slayton who was manager of the Detroit Athletic Club. Under his direction, Joe made it to Detroit's Golden Gloves competition in 1933, but was defeated by Max Merak, a Notre Dam football star. Three months after winning his next decisive victory, the National AAU light-weight championship in St. Louis, Joe went pro. In his 54 amateur fights, Joe had won fourty-three by knock-out, seven by decision and lost four by decision.
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His two earliest managers, the Roxborough brothers, moved Louis to Chicago and hired a former fighter Jack "Chappy" Blackburn to oversee his training. Joe's very first professional fight was against Jack Kracken and July 4, 1934. He earned an astounding $50, but that was short-lived. By the next year, Joe earned over $60,000 for knocking out Primo Carnera. Joe soon earned his nickname of "The Brown Bomber of Detroit." Joe was a hit, and newspapers and columnists were referring to him as the "star that had risen across the fistic heavens."
The Brown Bombers style was impeccable. Of his first twenty-seven fights, he had won twenty-three by knockouts. By twenty-one years old, Joe had knocked out many renowned fighters such as Primo Carnera, Kingfish Levinsky, Max Baer and Paolino Uzcudum in a total of 12 rounds. He was being regarded as a boxing god with Detroit News Sports Editor H.G. Salsinger writing: "Louis is generally regarded as the greatest fighter of all time." Joe was also being monetarily rewarded for his incredible skill earning over $300,000 in a year and a half when the average salary was under $2,000.
Joe's generosity and fame began to work against him. His generosity caused him to spend the second half of his life trying to payback debt from the first half. He would continually buy for those in need, payback his families welfare check, and further the African- American community by supporting other African-American atheletes.
Joe was so dedicated to his sport that he even married his wife Marva, two hours later fought, and then began his wedding night. With his growing career though, came growing fame. The control of fame would prove to be an important lesson for Joe to learn. With his fame came a natural arrogance, leading to a certain lack of training, or refusal advice against doing things like playing golf before a large fight.
On June 19, 1936, Joe lost to German Schmeling due to his lack of preparation. This was such a devastating blow to African-American supporters that there was rioting in the streets of Harlem ending with a supporter of Joe being hospitalized for two stab wounds and a skull injury. Joe never again took an opponent lightly.
In 1937, Joe captured the title heavy-weight champion with a knock out in the eighth round against James J. Braddock. He kept the title for 12 years with 22 knockouts in 24 fights. On June 22, 1938 a rematch with Schmeling was set up. This fight had a large amount of symbolism encased within it. The classic American fable of a poor man, who worked hard conquering the evil of a Nazi German right before WWII led to the entire nation backing Joe. Joe earnestly prepared for this fight not only wanting to reclaim his pride, but the pride of his nation and it paid off. Two minutes and four seconds into the first round, Joe delievered a devastating blow from which Schmeling did not give up. Joe had beaten the man who took his pride earlier in the decade and symbolically beaten the Nazi.
In 1942, Joe (ever the patriot) enlisted in the Army. He worked alongside men like Jackie Robinson in the then segregated army. Robinson credited Louis with doing perpetuating African-Americans in the service, including getting Robinson and others into officer's training school. Joe served a total of four years in the special services and performing exhibitions fights. He retired as a sergeant with the Legion of Merit.
The Army did not allow Joe to fight championship fights while enlisted, so he did not officially fight again until 1946, when he fought Billy Conn with a eighth round knockout, but it was obvious that while serving Joe had lost some of his edge. Following a match in 1948 with Walcott, Joe retired.
After retiring Joe tried his hand at business and started an insurance company which he very quickly lost interest in. Part of his distraction may have been his money problems and marriage trouble. His wife Marva left him in 1949, and due to the large divorce settlement he was hurting for money. He also owed the IRS a large amount of money so in an attempt to earn some he attempted a very short-lived comeback.
After a series of attempts at many businesses endeavors, Joe eventually setteled as a coaching advisor for people like Muhammad Ali after his health deteriorated and he was confined to a wheelchair.
Joe Louis had a stroke and died the following year on April 2, 1981. President Ronald Regan had so much respect for the man who furthered the African-American cause in so many ways that he waived the requirements and Joe Louis was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Joe Louis furthered the African-American cause both morally in a time of oppression and through discouragement of segregation using his fame. He was an incredible man, and a hero to the African-American community of his time.