Joe Louis: Why He Should Always Be Remembered
By Jules Philippe-Auguste
May 13th is a date that every American citizen should know. It is the birthday of one of the most important figures in history. The person I am referring to is the former heavyweight champion, Joe Louis Barrow.
If you are confused to why I believe that every American citizen should know who Joe Louis is, I can understand.
The first thing that probably comes to mind when you hear his name is that he was a former champion. If you are a boxing aficionado, you will point out that he still holds the record for the most successful title defenses. You may even go the extra mile and point out that he was the second black heavyweight champion after Jack Johnson.
If those are the first things that come to your attention, then I applaud you. I also agree with what you are thinking about this very moment. Why should these aforementioned facts be so important that every American should know him?
It is due to the fact that Louis was the symbol of hope going into his fight with Max Schmeling. It is also because he was treated heinously by the United States government due to taxes owed. With that being said, I am going to dive into my argument for why he should always be remembered.
His rematch with Schmeling had a much different tone than when they first met. In the 1930s, Hitler was looking to conquer Europe. The Louis versus Schmeling rematch had even greater importance and meaning. It is also speculated that Hitler contacted Schmeling personally, letting him know that he must win the fight for Nazi Germany.
This time around, Schmeling was seen not as a fighter, but as a representative of Nazi Germany. For the first time in American history, a black man was seen as the symbol of democracy. I cannot stress how significant it was for a grandson of a slave, and the great-grandson of a slave owner, to be considered a representative of America.
After his one round destruction of Schmeling, people around the world celebrated his victory. Not enough to convince you? Well, let us go deeper into his time in the military.
Before even joining the military, Louis donated a couple of hundred thousand dollars to relief funds. Now keep in mind that we are talking in the late 1930s, which was an extraordinary amount of money for that time period.
Deciding that money was not enough to help his country, Louis enlisted in the armed forces. When Joe Louis joined the army, the secretary of war was Henry Stimson, who refused to integrate black and white soldiers. Louis gave up four years of his prime and hundreds of thousands of dollars because he wanted to serve his country. His pay for doing this? A soldier rate of pay which was $21 a month.
Although he did not go into the front line, he was in the military’s entertainment division. This consisted of going to different camps and keeping the troops entertained with exhibition matches. It may seem ironic that he was the first one in line for a country that excluded black people and treated them as if they were less than human.
But if you really think about it, his patriotism and love for his country were actually favorable for black people in America. When Joe Louis would hear about the racist treatment black soldiers were receiving, he would speak with Truman Gibson Jr, who was a high-level war adviser in the war department to improve conditions.
When he was told that black soldiers were not going to be allowed to watch him fight, he made it known that he would not participate in any exhibition matches unless that was rectified also. By the time the war was over, he visited a over five million serviceman.
Sadly, none of this mattered to the United States government when the war ended. Instead of being treated as a hero and symbol of democracy, he became an enemy of the IRS. He owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes, which most of it was sent to help with the war efforts. He purchased tickets for the serviceman to watch him fight, only for the IRS to say he could not deduct any of those purchases.
He was reduced to fighting much longer than he should have in order to pay back the government. Once his fighting days were over, his tax debt ballooned to a million dollars by the 1950s. He did everything from trying to sell his own soft drink, to getting into pro-wrestling to pay his tax bill. The government even took the trust fund that Louis had set up for his children in order for him to try and lower his tax bill.
Americans celebrate two patriotic holidays during the summer time. Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering and honoring persons who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
Independence Day is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the Declaration of Independence of the United States. Patriotism is at an all-time high with American flags being waved everywhere. Joe Louis embodied what it means to love and serve his country.
It is important that we never forget how much he loved the United States government, and how much his country used him. Joe Louis is one of the most important figures in American history. We should honor him and remember that he was way more than just a boxing champion.