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aka "Brown Bomber", holder of the World Heavyweight Championship for twelve years
Joe Louis Barrow was born in Lafayette, Alabama, on May 13, 1914, the seventh of eight children. His father, Munroe Barrow, was committed to an asylum when Joe was two. His mother, Lily, later married a widower, Pat Brooks, who had eight children of his own. Needing to make a better living than he could in Alabama, Brooks took the large family to Detroit in search of factory work.
Joe was never interested in school, but when a friend took him to Brewster's East Side Gymnasium and introduced him to boxing, he was hooked immediately. His success in amateur tournaments caught the attention of John Roxborough, who became Louis's lifelong manager.
Louis fought his first professional fight on July 4, 1934; he scored a TKO against Jack Kracken in the first round. By the end of 1935 he had won all 23 of his professional fights, had earned $371,645 in purse money, and was ready to challenge for the Heavyweight Championship of the World.
On June 19, 1936, Louis faced German boxer Max Schmeling in Bronx, New York; the winner of the fight would have the right to challenge James Braddock for the World Heavyweight Championship. Both men fought hard, but Schmeling finally scored a KO in the 12th round, handing Louis his first ever loss. But when the championship bout between Schmeling and Braddock was interrupted by anti-German propaganda, Braddock's managers arranged a title match with Louis, in exchange for 10% of Louis's earnings for the next ten years. The two men met in Chicago, Illinois, on June 22, 1937, and Louis knocked Braddock out in the 8th round to claim the Heavyweight Championship title. Louis enlisted in the Army upon U.S. entry into World War II, and spent the next four years fighting exhibition matches to raise money for the Armed Services and to boost American morale. Returning to the professional ring after the war, Louis retired as undefeated World Heavyweight Champion in 1949. He had held his title for almost twelve years and through 24 challenges, a record that has never been broken (for either duration or number of challenges).
Louis's retirement did not last long, however, as he decided to try for a comeback in order to pay off personal debts and a federal tax lien. Although he had earned millions of dollars in prize money over his career, Louis had given most of it away to his friends and family, as well as to the government in return for all the welfare money his family had ever received. He tried to reclaim the championship on September 27, 1950, but lost by decision after a 15-round fight against Ezzard Charles (only the second loss of his career). He fought another nine matches before finally retiring for good in October of 1951. He was never able to pay his back taxes, but that debt was eventually forgiven by the Internal Revenue Service.
Joe Louis married Marva Trotter in 1935. The couple divorced, remarried, and then divorced again in 1948. Two children were born to the marriage -- Jacqueline and Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. In 1955, Louis married Rose Morgan, a successful Harlem businesswoman. This marriage was annulled in 1958. He married attorney Martha Jefferson in 1959, and the two were still married when Joe Louis died in Las Vegas on April 12, 1981. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, at the personal request of President Ronald Reagan.
Joe Louis was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
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This page was last updated on April 11, 2017.