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SGT. Joe Louis on Tour (1943)

Known as the “Brown Bomber,” Joe Louis (19141981) was the reigning heavyweight champ from 1937 to 1949 and is considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight fighter who ever lived.  When Louis was drafted during WWII, he staged over 95 boxing exhibitions under the Army’s Special Services Division to elevate troop morale and to encourage both African Americans and whites to join the war effort.  Louis’s popularity crossed racial boundaries and defied prevailing discriminatory practices in America and the American military. When asked about his decision to enter the racially segregated U.S. Army, Louis’s explanation was simple: “Lots of things are wrong with America, but Hitler ain't going to fix them.”

In this documentary produced by the military, Louis is pictured with fellow boxer Sugar Ray Robinson (19211989), who, like Louis, was drafted into the army and performed exhibition bouts to improve troop morale. Robinson is known to have refused to fight in exhibitions that African American soldiers were not allowed to watch.

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