Joe Louis Barrow, the Brown Bomber was born on Buckalew Mountain, near Lafayette, AL and grew up to become the heavyweight campion of the world. In that era the heavyweight boxing champion was the most visible sports figure in the world. Before satellites connected even the remotes corners of the world, the name Joe Louis was known wherever newspapers were sold or where the new wirless wonder, the radio, crackled with static.
A young, muscular man, he could deliver a knocout punch with either hand, which he did regularly beginning around 1934. Before he became champ he KO'd ex-champs Carnera and Baer and a host of pretenders. Then, in 1936, young and overconfident, he was upset by the German Max Schmeling. With a return match on hold, Joe became the heavyweight cahmpion on June 22, 1937, when he knocked out aging Jim Braddock.
The 1936 win by Schmeling and the return match had worldwide political implications, used by the propaganda machine of the Nazi Party. Joe got revenge and destroyed the German in 2 minutes and 4 seconds of the first round.
From then until America entered WWII he took on all challengers. During the war he visited Army camps all over the world and fought numerous exhibition matches for Army Charity.
He retired from boxing in 1949. At 36 he was urged to make a comeback. It was a mistake as he lost to Ezzard Charles. A year later he took on Rocky Marciano and was defeated in 8 rounds. All together Joe won 68 of 71 fights. 54 by knockout, and three loses. The one upset by Schmeling and the other two when by fight standards he was an old man.
Negro role models were few in Joe's time. Mainstream names like W.E.B. Dubois and A. Phillip Randolph were known largely by the elite. Bojangles Robinson and Rohester, even Step n' Fetchit and Amos and Andy were caricatures of the entertainment world.
In competitive sports, Jesse Owens, also from Alabama, had brought down thunder in the 1936 Olympics, but in those years Olympic champions, black or white, had few opportunities to cash in on their fame, and their popularity soon faded.