Monday, November 22, 2010

Joe Louis: American Icon

Except when quoting, I'm laying down a personal moratorium on the word "hero." That said, we jump from Castro's Cuba to the JFK assassination (47 years ago today), back to Castro and then to Joe Louis, who visited Cuba in 1959-1960. In January 1960, he was quoted as saying “Cuba was the only vacation spot where Negroes could go without bias.”*  This did not go over well during the Cold War. But let's step back to the 1930s through early 1950s, and a cool CD I picked up at Half Price Books: Joe Louis: An American Hero, orginally released in 2001 and now available on demand.

Alabama-born Detroit Challenger, World Champion, Cultural Legend.  More than forty songs were composed, recorded and released about Joe Louis during his lifetime, creating a microcosm of American society from various perspectives. I love these kinds of cultural overlays and palimpsests.  This collection includes seventeen tracks, and not all of them are songs.   One one track, the Reverend Mr. J. M. Gates delivers a sermon, "Joe Louis' Wrist and His Fist" (1940).  Two of my favorite cuts so far are Memphis Minnie's "He's in the Ring (Doin' the Same Old Thing" (1935) and The Dixieaires gospel song, "Joe Louis Is a Fightin' Man" (1947) to the tune of "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho."

Here, Detroit's Mayor Albert E. Cobo meets with Joe Louis; Joe's Mama looks on worshipfully.  [Photo credit: Virtual Motor City, Wayne State University].

Started checking out these books for more on Joe Louis:

Thomas R. Hietela, The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and the Struggle for Racial Equality, 2002.

*Alternate version: "where a Negro can go in the wintertime without discrimination." In "CUBA: Fidel & the U.S. Negro," Time, June 6, 1960.

Barney Nagler, Brown Bomber, 1972.

Today's Rune: The Self.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm with you on "hero." I only use it for fictional characters.

the walking man said...

You do know Joe is buried in Arlington eh? huge grave marker I was actually surprised first time I saw it. Then I realized he was a man of his time doing a physical "propaganda" for the free world.