Biography of Joe Louis

“The Brown Bomber: The Story of Joe Louis”

Quick Facts:

Date of Birth:
May 14, 1914

Date of Death: April 12, 1981

Parents: The son of an Alabama Sharecropper, called Mun Barrow, stepfather moved them to Detroit in 1924. Information on his mother is hard to come by.

Education: Very little because as a child he lived in poverty

Honors and Awards: Only boxer to retire with his championship belt. Won National Light Heavy Weight Amateur Crown of the Golden Gloves at nineteen years old.

Joe Louis ascended to the top of the boxing world faster than any other athlete in history. From his “Bum of the Month” campaign to his tragic death, Louis was one of the most interesting sports figures in history.

Known to many as the “Brown Bomber,” Joe Louis Barrow was born on May 13, 1914. He was the son of an Alabama sharecropper, and he was close to his large family. He moved to Detroit in 1924, where he won the National Light Heavyweight Amateur Crown of the Golden Gloves at the early age of nineteen. In 1933, John Roxborough, his manager at the time, thought his name was too long, so it was shortened to simply Joe Louis.

In 1935, Louis turned pro. He won his first eight fights, but finally lost to Max Schmelling, a German who was a key part of Hitler’s “Aryan Superiority”. After twelve grueling rounds, Louis was finally defeated by Schmelling via knock out. In 1937, Louis won the Heavyweight Championship of the World after beating James Bradock but later said, “I don’t want nobody to call me champ until I beat Schmelling”

Joe got his chance for a rematch on June 27, 1938, and he took advantage of it. Once the bell rang, Louis paid no attention to his defense, and went wild on Schmelling. He would win with a first round knock-out. Schmeling fell to the floor two minutes and four seconds into the fight. Louis dealt a devastating blow to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Joe defended his title until 1942 when he served in the army. During his service, he fought two charity bouts for military relief.

When he left the service, he defended his title again until 1949, when he retired, still the champion.

So many victories in such a short amount of time, however, took a toll in the form of taxes. In Louis’s entire career he earned $4,677,992, but paid $1,199,000 in income taxes.

Unfortunately, drugs also took a toll on Louis in his final years. In 1969, he collapsed on a New York City street and was hospitalized. The incident was credited to a “physical breakdown,” but Louis later admitted it was caused by his cocaine use and fear of a plot against his life.

With his health failing, Louis still went to major boxing events. On April 12, 1981, Joe had had ringside seats at a Larry Holms vs. Trever Berbick championship bout. After the match, Louis went into cardiac arrest and died at age sixty-six.

During his career, Louis had many wonderful moments in his boxing career. Joe Louis retired with the boxing title, won his first eight matches as a pro, faced men like Rocky Marciano, Tony Zale, Buddy Baer, and Johnny Paycheck. He is now said to be one of the best prize fighters of all time.


Byers, Paula K. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

Sherrow, Victoria. North American Biographies. Danbury : Phillip Lief Group Inc., 1994.

The Joe Louis Estate. “Joe Louis the Official Web Site.” Joe Louis Biography. 1999. The Joe Louis Estate CMG Worldwide. 14, Mar. 2000 <>.

Nolan, Jenny. "Brown Bomber: The man behind the fists." Joe Louis Estate. The Detroit News. 3/14/00. <>.

For a more detailed biography on Joe Louis click HERE.

Date created March 21, 2000
Click to return to the Black Biographies page