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Joe Louis - The World Heavyweight Champion

Who Was Joe Louis?

Joe Louis, a professional American boxer, was regarded as the most famous black person in his day after he became the World Heavyweight Champion in 1937. Louis kept the title for an astounding 12 years, only giving it up when he retired in 1949. Joe Louis was also considered the first black to achieve national hero status; a status he earned when he defeated German boxer Max Schemling in the famous 1938 rematch.

Dates:  May 13, 1914 -- April 12, 1981

Also Known As: Joe Louis Barrow (born as), Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber 

Humble Beginnings

Joe Louis Barrow, the seventh of eight children, was born on May 13, 1914, to rural Lafayette, Alabama sharecroppers Munroe and Lillie Barrow. Joe, who was one-quarter Cherokee from his mothers side, weighed a whopping 11 pounds at birth.

Life was very hard for Joes family. When Joe was only two years old, his father was committed to the Searcy State Hospital for the Colored Insane. Soon thereafter, Joes mother received word that her husband had died. In truth, he had not. Munroe lived another 24 years, confined to an insane asylum and oblivious of his famous son’s successes.

Lillie, who believed herself a widow, embarked on a lonely life of working hard in the fields to support her large family. Four years later, in 1920, Lillie remarried. The Barrow family’s life improved a bit when Lillie married Pat Brooks, a local construction worker, who was a widower with five children.

As a young boy, Joe suffered from a slight stammer, which made him quiet and shy. He spent a lot of time outside, climbing trees and playing. On Sundays, he would attend a small Baptist church with his family. During weekdays, Joe would try to skip school as often as he could.

In 1926, 12-year-old Joe and his family joined the Great Migration and moved to Detroit, Michigan, where factory work was abundant.

Reluctant Schoolboy

Due to his rural upbringing and very little formal education, Joe was painfully unprepared for Detroits public school system. After being placed in classes

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