Known as the “Brown Bomber,” LaFayette’s Joe Louis is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxing champions of all time. Louis was among the first African Americans to achieve national hero status in a white-dominated society. His 1938 defeat of German boxer Max Schmeling was a vivid refutation of Nazi Germany’s official policy of white superiority and was celebrated throughout the nation. Following his service in World War II, Louis went on to a career of 68 wins, 54 by knockout. He still holds the record for successfully defending his title more times than any other heavyweight boxer and for his 27 championship bouts. Upon his death in 1981, President Ronald Reagan waived the requirements for burial at the Arlington National Cemetery so that Joe Louis could be buried with full military honors.

Joseph Louis Barrow was born to Munroe and Lillie Barrow on May 13, 1914, in a shack at the foot of Buckalew Mountain near LaFayette in Chambers County. He became known simply as “Joe Louis” when he ran out of room for his last name when filling out a form for one of his first amateur fights. Louis’s father was a sharecropper; the circumstances of his life and death are somewhat unclear, but he was likely deceased early in Louis’s life. Louis’s mother took in washing to help support the family before marrying Patrick Brooks, joining her family of eight with his family of eight. In the summer of 1926, when Joe was 13, his newly expanded family moved to Detroit, where Brooks landed a job in the emerging automotive industry.

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Encyclopedia of Alabama

Photos courtesy of: Alabama Department of Archives and History, Alamy