Louis would suffer his first professional loss to German Max Schmeling at the Yankee Stadium, resulting in a knockout in the twelfth round. Louis would win the heavyweight champion title a year later but refused to recognize himself as such until his rematch with Schmeling. The rematch between Schmeling and Louis would take place at the Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938. German leader, Adolf Hitler, hoped to witness the defeat of Louis to prove his theology of white superiority. Yet, Louis would defeat Schmeling in the first round, lasting only two minutes and forty seconds.
With his win, Louis chipped away at the superior Aryan race belief held not only by Germany at the time, but also the U.S. With his illustrious boxing career, he became a symbol of hope, pride, strength, and dignity for African Americans against the Jim Crow laws and segregation in the U.S and abroad. Further, Louis's victories made him the first African American to achieve the status of a national hero. Louis said, "The one-time cotton picker was now the heavyweight champion of the world." However, his boxing career would be halted in 1942.
Louis enlisted into the military during World War II. His service consisted of raising funds for Army Emergency Relief and promoting enlistment to the Army through boxing matches. Louis’s prolific boxing abilities encouraged the advancement of other African American soldiers and athletes in the military. For example, famous baseball player Jackie Robinson, assisted by Louis, would be accepted into the Army Officer Candidate School. After the war ended, Louis returned to boxing, where he held on to his title four more times before retiring in 1949. Yet, due to financial difficulties caused by back taxes he owed, Louis soon returned to boxing. Louis's comeback would end in 1951, when he lost to Rocky Marciano. He would later make television appearances and even attempt professional wrestling. The government would eventually pardon Louis's tax debt. Joe Louis succumbed to a heart attack in 1981 and currently rests in the Arlington National Cemetery. He received full national military honors due to President Reagan waiving the requirements for burial. The legacy left behind by Louis's magnificent boxing career would create a path for future generations of African American athlete activists to further advance the civil rights movement in America.
- "Joes Louis" Encyclopedia of Alabama: http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1601