Joe Louis Defeats Max Schmeling
Back in the day on June 22nd, 1938, African-American boxer Joe Louis defeated the German pugilist Max Schmeling in a highly touted rematch. Unlike any other fight before it, the contest was imbued with racial and ideological undertones. Louis, the pride of African-Americans living in oppressive conditions in the U.S., was previously undefeated when he lost for the first time to Schmeling two years prior. The Nazis of Germany took the occasion to utilize the outcome for propaganda purposes. Louis recovered from his defeat, however, winning the world heavyweight title, but did not truly accept the distinction until he could have an opportunity to avenge his defeat to Schmeling. The rematch was set and soon became one of the largest – if not the largest – event ever listened to on radio. With Hitler’s army on the march in Austria, Schmeling was defeated in just over two minutes.
The Louis-Schmeling bouts were commented on by black writers like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. Unfortunately after “the Brown Bomber’s” victory, the racist press in the U.S. also commented, characterizing Louis with an array of racial stereotypes.