In recognition of boxing great Joe Louis’ 100th birthday, a traveling exhibition celebrating the life and legacy of the pugilist will make its first stop of a cross-country tour in the boxer’s home county, Chambers County, Ala., on May 13.
The exhibit, “Joe Louis Barrow: A Life and Career in Context,” draws from images and materials from Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library and will highlight Louis’ childhood, his family’s move to Detroit, his turning professional, his key fights and his years in the Army.
The exhibit opening is free to the public and takes place on Tuesday, May 13, at H. Grady Bradshaw Chambers County Library & Cobb Memorial Archives in Valley, Ala., beginning with a presentation by exhibit curators Pellom McDaniels III and Dana F. White at noon Eastern Time. The presentation will include film clips of Louis’ significant boxing matches such as the 1935 fights against Primo Carnera and Max Baer, and his 1936 and 1938 bouts with Max Schmeling.
A free lunch provided by the Friends of the Library will be served beginning at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time. A reservation is required for lunch. Please call Bradshaw Library at (334) 768-2161 by Friday, May 9.
A ribbon cutting to open the exhibit will begin at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time. A 100th birthday cake will be served following the ribbon cutting. The day’s events will conclude with an evening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Light refreshments will be served.
The exhibit will be on display at Bradshaw Library through June 6, 2014, and will travel from Chambers County to his hometown of Detroit, and other cities throughout the United States, including Chicago, Kansas City, Tulsa and Las Vegas, before returning to Emory in 2015.
“We’re using materials from our Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library collections in creative and scholarly ways,” said McDaniels III, faculty curator of Emory University’s MARBL African American Collections. “It’s another opportunity for us to revisit the life and career of Joe Louis in ways that most people may not know about or recall. People don’t really know who he was – most don’t know where he came from, what his life was like, or the impact of his success on America and on a global scale.”
Considered by many to be the first well-known African American athlete, Joe Louis Barrow was born May 13, 1914, in rural Chambers County, Ala., the seventh of eight children born to sharecropper parents, themselves the children of former slaves.
When he was about 12, his family moved to Detroit, part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to urban life in the Northeast, Midwest and West. He became interested in boxing while hanging out at a youth recreation center in Detroit.
He made his professional debut in 1934 in Chicago, and held the title of world heavyweight champion from 1937-1949, earning the nickname “The Brown Bomber.” He retired in 1951 with a record of 68-3, and he was much admired for his clean image and gentle demeanor outside the ring during his career, but his retirement years were rocky. He died in 1981 at the age of 66.
McDaniels says the exhibit’s destination cities were selected not only because Louis’ boxing matches were held there, but because of the impact he had on those communities — cities with large concentrations of African Americans as a result of the Great Migration.
“Thinking in terms of the Great Migration, how he elevated the masses due to his success and what he represented,” McDaniels says. “He was someone African Americans were familiar with because of his roots – growing up in the South, sharecropping, migrating to a northern city, finding opportunity and taking advantage of it. He became a Messiah type that converted their dreams of success into reality in the boxing ring.”
The H. Grady Bradshaw Chambers County Library is located at 3419 20th Avenue, Valley, Alabama, 36854. For more information, please contact library director, Mary Hamilton at (334) 768-2161 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.