On April 12th 1981, Joe Louis passed away in Las Vegas. Born in Lafayette, Alabama, in 1914, Joe and his family moved away from the discrimination they encountered when he was still young to settle in Detroit.
Joe was world heavyweight champion for 12 years, when the average reign was just 3, starting from when he knocked out James J. Braddock in Chicago on June 22, 1937.
His reign was the longest in the history of any weight division; he defended his title 25 times and scored 21 knockouts, and in between he served in the U.S. Army during World War II and is the only boxer to be honored for his contribution to the war effort with a burial in Arlington Cemetery.
It was in the prelude to World War II that he fought and beat Max Schmeling, former heavyweight champion and the German symbol of Arian supremacy, in a fight seen by the world as a good against evil, which embodied the wider political and social conflict of the time.
Yet, Joe was not just a great boxer; widely regarded as the first African American to achieve the status of nationwide hero, he united people from all backgrounds.
In 1952 he attempted to qualify for the PGA San Diego Open while they had a Caucasian only rule for players. When challenged he met with the all-white Board with the discussions resulting in him becoming the first black person to be sanctioned to play in a PGA event.
In 1954/55, he was one of the original investors in the first non-segregated hotel and casino in Las Vegas – the Moulin Rouge, acting as a greeter there and occasionally even taking to the stage.
Just one of his greatest quotes is “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough”.