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America’s Great Black Hope
When Joe Louis of the United States met Max Schmeling of Germany for the Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1938, politics and ballyhoo turned it into a battle between Freedom and Fascism—a foreshadowing of World War II
October/November 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 6
A friend of mine still laments the deprivation he suffered after the first fight between Joe Louis and former heavyweight champion Max Schmeling of Germany in 1936. “I attended a dreary boarding school back then,” he recalls. “Its only claim to excellence was the cinnamon rolls served for Sunday breakfast. Well, we were all boxing fans there, and those of us with sense knew that Joe Louis was unbeatable. When the odds were announced eight to one in Joe’s favor, there was as much betting in that dreadful institution as the scarcity of Schmeling backers would permit. Imagine my delight when I chanced upon a fool willing to venture his two weekly cinnamon rolls against my pledge of sixteen. We were all distraught when the German knocked Joe out; but for me—at an age when eight weeks without rolls was an eternity—the future was a boundless Sahara, and it is well that no means of painless suicide was readily at hand.”
Schmeling’s win was an upset indeed, and my friend was not the only one to lose his bread on the Brown Bomber. But there was to be another day, another fight—perhaps the most “political” fight in boxing history—a symbolic encounter midway between a professional sporting event and a minor international incident.
Joe Louis (born Joseph Louis Barrow in Alabama in 1914) began boxing professionally, out of Detroit, in July, 1934. By the following May his record was 22-0, and most of his wins had been knockouts. Joe Louis was ready for the big time.
Luckily for the young boxer, the big time was also ready for a Joe Louis. It was twenty years since the Havana afternoon when Jess Willard, the Great White Hope, had dethroned Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion. Johnson, to put it mildly, had not been popular with most white fans. They had seen him as cocky, “uppity.” His way of toying with opponents stuck in the national craw. So did the fact that he had married two white women, and that he smiled as he battered white men into helplessness. In the years between Johnson and Louis an unwritten boxing law had kept black fighters from getting a crack at the heavyweight title, and in some states there were, for a time, legal sanctions against interracial boxing matches. But by the midthirties some of the racial tensions of Johnson’s era had eased. The popularity of several black champions and contenders in lower weight divisions helped to make Louis’ bid for the heavyweight crown acceptable. Then too, Joe Louis was splendidly cast for his role. In the vulgar parlance of the time, he was a “good nigger”; he “knew his place.” Both by nature and through careful nurturing at the hands of John Roxborough and Julian Black, his managers, Louis was everything Jack Johnson before him and Muhammad AIi after him refused to be. The young fighter was modest, taciturn, generally gracious to those he fought. “And for God’s sake,” Roxborough had commanded his charge, “after you beat a white opponent, don’t smile! ” If Joe occasionally would do something peculiar, such as refusing to be photographed eating watermelon, still the tone and terms of his refusal could be called uppity only by out-and-out bigots. A phrase which today reeks of sanctimonious white supremacy hovered about the fighter throughout his career: Joe Louis, decreed the sporting press, was “a credit to his race.”
The generally sad state of heavyweight boxing was also propitious to the advent of an exciting young fighter—even a black one. The years between Gene Tunney’s retirement in 1928 and Joe Louis’ climb to the title in 1937 were dominated by mediocre heavyweights. The tournament to pick Tunney’s successor ended in 1930, with Max Schmeling the winner on a disputed foul over Jack Sharkey. By 1935, in the quickest turnover in boxing history, four more men had won the title: Sharkey (in a rematch memorable only for the lament spoken by Joe Jacobs, Schmeling’s manager, “We was robbed!”); Primo Camera (the “Ambling Alp,” a huge but bumbling Italian fighter); Max Baer (the “Clown Prince,” a boxer almost as amusing as Muhammad AIi, but not, alas, otherwise comparable); and James J. Braddock (the “Cinderella Man”—so called because his drab performances had nearly pushed him into retirement two years before he struggled his way up to the crown). Boxing historians regard Max Schmeling as the best of the lot, but the compliment is not overpowering. A new fighter with the 24-carat championship aura of a Dempsey or a Tunney was what the game needed, the experts agreed, but if no White Hope was to be found, maybe this Brown Bomber from Detroit would do.
Louis’ sixth-round knockout of Carnera, in Yankee Stadium on June 25, 1935, made him a top contender. It was his first New York bout and his first fight promoted by Mike Jacobs, who, mainly because of his tie to Louis, would control New York boxing in the coming decade. After he beat Camera, no one could deny Louis’ right to a title fight on racial grounds. He would get a crack at Braddock if his fists earned one.
They almost didn’t. By June, 1936, Louis had won four more fights, all by knockouts, including a four-round victory over Max Baer. Max Schmeling, who was making a comeback, was to be Louis’ third ex-champion victim, and the fight was popularly regarded as Joe’s last test before a title battle with Braddock. Schmeling would be the most skilled boxer Louis had yet faced; he was seasoned, intelligent, and professional, and he commanded a respect the crowds had never given the lumbering Camera or the slapstick Baer. Some writers and fans believed there might be more than publicity behind Schmeling’s cryptic comment that he had “seen something” to take advantage of in Louis’ style. Nonetheless, Schmeling’s record was marred by some losses, while Louis now had twenty-seven straight wins behind him and, at twenty-two, was Schmeling’s junior by nine years. The powerful, beautifully built young slugger from Detroit appeared unstoppable. If the ten-to-one odds on Louis obtainable here and there seemed silly to those in the know, eight-to-one looked about right.
The Nazis were not happy about the match. To them, the notion of a competition between an “Aryan” and a Negro was dubious in the first place, and the likelihood of a Louis win did not improve matters. Reich authorities forbade a proposed excursion of German fans who planned to come to New York for the fight, and substantially the same Nazi attitudes toward Negroes that would flare up a few months later during the Berlin Olympics were smoldering when Schmeling left for the United States. There was no official send-off, and the fighter departed under a cloud of Party disapproval.
When the men entered the ring in Yankee Stadium, the ex-champion got more applause than the young contender. Max had always drawn well in New York, and few blacks could afford tickets for a big fight in 1936. This night Schmeling seemed cool, calm, every inch the old pro as he glared from under his thick, black eyebrows at Louis. More than one writer would remark the next day on the German’s uncanny facial resemblance to Jack Dempsey.
That night Schmeling fought with care and precision—a style very different from Dempsey’s furious attack, but, this night, at least, just as damaging. For three cautious rounds, neither man hurt the other. The fourth round was the turning point. Louis connected sharply with the already famous left jab, only to have Schmeling cross above it with a smashing right to the head. Another right followed, and Joe Louis was on the canvas for the first time in his professional career. Schmeling had indeed “seen something”: he had seen that Louis tended to drop his right hand when he threw the left jab, thereby leaving his head unprotected.
The young boxer rose at the count of three, but the real contest was over. Although Louis would later say that he remembered little after the fourth round, he doggedly fought on, demonstrating the conditioning that would carry him through so many later years and fights; but it was all Schmeling’s show. Time and again the right fist crashed on target and Louis was unable to retaliate save through occasional foul punches that he was perhaps too groggy to prevent. Well ahead on the judge’s scorecards, Schmeling seemed resigned to plod through the full fifteen rounds, piling up points over his bewildered opponent, whose quivering legs refused to buckle. Then in the twelfth round, calling on some reserve of strength (and, he later claimed, fearing injury from Louis’ low blows), Schmeling bore in with renewed vigor, caught the younger man cleanly on the jaw with a final right-hand blow, and the fight was over. Louis was still on his back, rolling from side to side, when referee Arthur Donovan’s count reached ten.
The next morning, as the smiling winner chatted with the press, the Hitler regime suddenly changed its stance. From Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and National Enlightenment, came a cable to Schmeling: “To your wonderful victory my best congratulations. I know you fought for Germany; that it’s a German victory. We are proud of you. Heil Hitler. Regards.” Hitler himself sent Schmeling a telegram bearing his “felicitations,” and to the fighter’s wife, Czech-born film actress Anny Ondra, he sent a weighty basket of flowers. The day after that, the German press began demanding a Braddock-Schmeling championship bout in Germany. Within a week the same papers were explaining that Schmeling’s victory demonstrated the supremacy of the Aryan race and that he had been inspired to fight his best through conversations with Hitler, Goebbels, and other Party leaders. Schmeling shortly returned home to be greeted by a large reception—at the Frankfurt airport—complete with speeches and circling Luftwaffe planes. It was announced that he would vacation as Hitler’s guest. When the fight films were shown in Austria—where the Nazis were then struggling for power—cheering demonstrators surrounded the theaters. They shouted “Heil Hitler! Heil Deutschland! Heil Schmeling!” as, magnified on screens in Vienna and Salzburg, the right fist again and again smashed the Negro’s jaw.
A Braddock-Schmeling fight was slated for New York—on June 3,1937. It never took place. The full details of Max Schmeling’s shoddy treatment by the American boxing establishment during the next year are too complex to unravel here; but not even the outraged howls of Goebbels’ writers exaggerated greatly. In spite of his clear victory over Louis, Schmeling was denied a shot at Braddock’s championship title. Louis got it instead. Why? An untangling of the charges and countercharges, the publicity and pleas, the court decisions and appeals, suggests one answer: money. Braddock’s manager and the fight’s promoters ultimately feared that anti-Fascist boycotts would hurt the gate, while a Braddock-Louis fight would draw well. On Janury 9,1937, the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights announced a boycott of the ticket sales and of the proposed fight itself. By January 30 a host of other organizations had joined the boycott and threatened to picket bouts on Schmeling’s proposed exhibition tour of several Southern states, where his win over Louis had been especially well received. Anti-Fascist groups decried the tour as “a piece of Nazi propaganda” designed to stir racism.
On January 31 Joe Gould, Braddock’s manager, called a press conference to announce his acceptance of a $500,000 offer for a Braddock-Louis fight to be held in June in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. “I have taken a poll of boxing writers all over the country,” said Gould, “and the consensus is that a Braddock-Schmeling fight would draw only $200,000. Braddock is not responsible for political conditions that have arisen and will affect the drawing power of a fight with Schmeling.”
Schmeling repeatedly said that he was a fighter, not a politician. He had never been close to the Nazi leaders, and he had a Jewish manager of whom they were known to disapprove. Publicity-wary promoters refused to listen.
So it was that on June 22, 1937, a new world’s heavyweight champion sat in his dressing room in Comiskey Park. Joe Louis had knocked out Jim Braddock in the eighth round. It had been ten minutes before the loser was able to walk out of the ring. Years later Braddock would tell British boxing writer Harry Carpenter that he had never fought better than he did against Joe Louis. “But this … Louis was young, strong, and good. Oh, he was good . And I did my best, but come the eighth round, I was finished. I just hadn’t anything left. And so when he hit me with that right, I just lay there. I couldn’t have got off that floor if they’d offered me a million dollars to stand up.”
As the South Side of Chicago and the black districts of other American cities and towns exploded in celebration (one estimate puts the Harlem crowds at one hundred thousand), the new champ was quietly opening one of the great publicity campaigns in sports history. Said Joe Louis to the scribbling reporters, “My only regret is that I did not have Max Schmeling in the ring tonight instead of the man I knocked out.” After each of his three title defenses that year—and at some point during most interviews of any sort—Louis would repeat some version of that line. His sincerity was evident. He did not regard himself as the true champion until he had defeated the only man who had ever beaten him.
Schmeling also kept himself in the news during the year that passed between Louis’ ascension to the championship and their rematch. After a visit to the Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, camp where the champion was preparing for his bout with Tommy Farr, Schmeling told the interviewers, “I want Louis.” Once again he claimed that he “saw something” and that he was now “more eager than ever to fight him.” He added, “I can lick him again.” He shrugged off questions about his age: “Max has always lived a good, clean life. I can fight good when I’m thirty-five.”
On December 13 Schmeling was in New York for a fight with a strong but undazzling journeyman named Harry Thomas. Despite the mediocre opponent and the inevitable boycott by the Anti-Nazi League, Schmeling’s popularity and the aura beginning to surround the anticipated title bout drew a crowd of eighteen thousand, the largest gathering to see an indoor fight in New York in two years. Wrote one reporter, “Seven times Thomas went down under that short, flashing, paralyzing right-hand punch to the jaw with which Schmeling hammered Louis into submission.” Joe Louis—always Joe Louis. Rarely was he absent from any press commentary on Schmeling as 1938 came in and the German went home to chop down two more opponents. Everything for both men was pointing toward their second encounter. The date finally was set for June 22, 1938. At least five American cities bid for the bout, but again Mike Jacobs lured the show into New York and Yankee Stadium.
Week by week the darkening political situation of 1938 seemed to add to the fight’s special quality as a symbol of international and interracial tensions. The war was two years closer now than when Louis and Schmeling first battled, and even sports writers’ phrases like “the Teuton” or “Herr Max” rang more somberly than they had in the summer of 1936. Sports and politics grew harder to separate. American coverage of Schmeling’s tune-up fights and other activities now routinely included the reactions of the Nazi papers and sports authorities, the political mood of the German fight crowds, and Schmeling’s Hitler salutes after his victories. Even Joe Jacobs, Schmeling’s American manager, joined in the Nazi salute after one fight in Germany. “You gotta do it there or else,” Jacobs explained. “Anyway I had my fingers crossed. I’m 560 per cent Jewish.” In trying to promote Jewish acceptance of the second Louis-Schmeling fight, Jacobs volunteered a bizarre analysis of the political situation in the Reich: “Most of the trouble with the Jews over there is caused by the Jews in this country. Why, everybody’s happy over there. Everybody’s spending money like it was water, and talk of war makes the Germans laugh. Why, they even have synagogues still open over there. I know because I went to one three times one day. No one said anything to me because I was Jewish. They treated me like a king. …”
Meanwhile, a commentator for The Nation typified the strident tone of those who opposed the rematch. I. Q. Gross called Schmeling “a Nazi commodity” and Hitler’s “close friend,” and passed along a baseless rumor that “Schmeling is scheduled to take a leading post in Hitler’s Cabinet as director of physical education for German youth, presumably to make them fit for the next fascist aggression.” (During the war Schmeling would attain the rank of sergeant in the paratroopers—his highest “post” in the German government.) Gross went on to say that “thousands of Nazis, many in Storm Troop uniforms, have been ordered to attend the fight by officials of the German-American Bund.”
Rumors and then counterrumors abounded. A German boxing expert said Schmeling would have to win by a knockout because American officials would not give him a fair decision. On this side of the Atlantic a story spread that Schmeling would be imprisoned by Hitler if he lost the fight to a black.
Joe Louis was a hero to large sections of the American black population, and that did nothing to ease the tensions surrounding the fight. Black feelings about the champion ran deep. When Louis beat Braddock, black militant Malcolm X once recalled, “All the Negroes in Lansing, like Negroes everywhere, went wildly happy with the greatest celebration of race pride our generation had ever known. Every Negro boy old enough to walk wanted to be the next Brown Bomber.” The extra racial twist provided by Nazi pro-Aryan propaganda was not lost on American Negroes. Historian John Hope Franklin writes that after Schmeling knocked out “the athletic idol of the Negro race” in 1936, the average Negro could not speak of Nazis “without a feeling of personal antagonism.” The racism engulfing Louis’ career in the 1930’s, if less ferocious than that of Jack Johnson’s day, remained vicious enough—even without the addition of Nazi propaganda. It was not always pleasant to be a “colored” celebrity in America. A look through contemporary press coverage of the champion can make a modern reader squirm. The champion’s speech was debased to make him a minstrel darky. Asked how he felt about using a bed where Washington had slept, he was supposed to have said, “Mistah Washington sho’ know how to pick beds.” A newspaper cartoon carried the caption: “Use the word ‘defeat,’ Joseph.” “Sho. I pops ’em on de chin and dey drags ’em out by de feet.” The sports editor of the New York Times explained that Joe would use no planned tactics against Schmeling because he was too stupid to master a strategy and fought by “instinct.” The Literary Digest said that “one characteristic of Negro fighters is their inability to worry.” The Denver Post held forth on Louis’ fervent cravings for fried chicken. And so it went.
If the media presented the champion as slightly subhuman, at least his skills commanded respect. But the racism in articles on Louis’ black fans was unrelieved. Story after story perpetuated the stereotype of blacks as rowdy, irresponsible, grinning children who lived for occasions to parade, gamble, sing, and dance. The Literary Digest spoke of Joe’s fans as “the Harlem-tailored, gold-toothed, dark-hued gentry” (while calling the champion “the kinky-haired, thick-lipped … none-too-intellectual … shuffling, ex-Alabama pick-aninny”). If Schmeling won, said the magazine, “there won’t be a dime left in all Harlem.”
On May 3, 1938, a cheering German crowd saw Schmeling off on the S.S. Bremen . Six days later he docked in New York, and the sports pages bannered: “Schmeling Arrives Confident He’ll Beat Louis and Be First to Regain Title.”
May passed into June as the two boxers trained. Fight talk blended with war talk, and the New York papers were filled with correspondence on whether or not the bout should be stopped. Promoter Mike Jacobs informed President Roosevelt that 10 per cent of his net profit would go to the Refugee Aid Committee. A nice gesture, but hardly enough to stem the flow to editors of letters concerned about Schmeling’s share of the take. One from a Benjamin Solomon, of Port Jervis, New York, printed in the May 28 New York Times , was typical: To buy a fight ticket, said Mr. Solomon, was equal to buying goods made in Germany. “I don’t see how anyone with a sense of decency would willingly do anything that helps the continuance in power of this regime of mass lying, mass tyranny, mass torture and mass murder!”
Schmeling looked sharp in training, the sports writers said. He was running ten miles a day (to Louis’ six) and banging his sparring partners around. Louis looked poor; rumors had it that his intimates were troubled by his performance. On June 5 Mike Jacobs announced that reserved seats were moving to the tune of ten thousand dollars a day.
Retired ex-champion Braddock visited Louis’ camp and picked the Bomber to win by a seventh-round knockout. “Joe seems to be concentrating on infighting and body punishing. Those are the tactics that should whip a veteran like Schmeling,” said Braddock. But then Gene Tunney had gone to watch the contender and pronounced him to have the “finest right in the world today.”
On the twelfth a crowd of 3,794 jammed Louis’ camp at Pompton Lakes and paid $1.10 each to watch him in action. Jack Blackburn, the champ’s trainer, said the fight would go one or two rounds if Max would stand up and slug. He added that Joe was a much better fighter for having taken a licking.
On June 19 the Hamburg docked with a party of twenty-five German fans, and more were due soon on the Europa ; but the rumors of a huge contingent of German or German-American storm troopers seemed to be false. Mike Jacobs denied that the boycott by the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League had done much damage at ticket windows.
Louis continued to look bad in training. Sparring partners were bouncing rights off him. One raised a welt under his left eye. Steve Dudas, the last man to fight Schmeling, had no doubts: Schmeling possessed “a left hook that no one in this country has ever seen. … It will be easy for Max.”
June 22, the day of the fight, was hot and humid in New York, with a chance of rain. Louis weighed in at 200 pounds, Schmeling at 193. The champion was favored at two-to-one, but all seventeen experts polled by a German boxing paper picked Schmeling. NBC had combined its Red and Blue Networks to carry the broadcast on 146 stations. There was to be short-wave coverage and delayed broadcasts in several European countries. The usual 3 A.M. curfew was suspended in Germany so that cafés and bars could carry the fight for their patrons. Schmeling’s wife would hear it as a guest in Goebbels’home.
All New York Central trains from the Midwest arrived carrying extra coaches, and the Pennsylvania line had also, braced for a heavy passenger load. There would be thirty-six extra IND subways that night on the run to Yankee Stadium. Fifty Mexicans arrived in a private bus. Celebrity spectators would include six mayors and several governors. The police announced that three thousand men would be specially deployed, including one thousand in uniform at Yankee Stadium, and another thousand added to the regular Harlem night shift.
On the comic page, Jeff, who had taken a beating that week as Louis’ sparring partner, managed to defeat his opponent in a preliminary bout and now shouted to Mutt that he was ready to whip Louis and Schmeling simultaneously. Restaurants advertised quick prefight dinners for the fans. At Longchamps the boxing buff would find that it was “19 Minutes to Ringside from the Finest of Dinner Thrills.” Loew’s informed the public that all its theaters would announce the fight results, and the Palace promised to show a movie of the contest the next day.
It turned out to be a short film—two minutes and four seconds. Wrote Harry Carpenter, “No one can ever say for certain, but it is probable that in all of two and a half centuries of prize-fighting, those 124 seconds which Louis spent on Schmeling were the most concentratedly destructive.”
In truth, Louis’ onslaught lasted closer to ninety seconds. For the first half-minute the two men merely fenced and feinted. Then came two decent left jabs by Louis, seemingly a taunt to the challenger—a dare to use the right as he had done in the first fight. And the right came. It landed a little high on Joe’s head, but solidly. It was Schmeling’s first good punch—and his last.
Louis retaliated with a series of hard left hooks. A right hand slammed against Schmeling’s head. Schmeling reeled into the ropes, his right arm hanging over the top strand. Louis raced in with a series of body blows, mainly rights, one of which landed far back on the left rib cage. After the fight Schmeling would say he’d been fouled, but no formal claim was filed and he soon withdrew the accusation. The films show that the punch was clean by New York rules. It fractured Schmeling’s third lumbar vertebra and likely drove it against his kidney. The shock half paralyzed Schmeling’s legs. His scream of pain was audible many rows from ringside above the uproar of the seventy thousand shouting spectators.
Louis kept firing—swift, body-ripping blows, thrown from a slugger’s flat-footed stance. Schmeling did his best to withstand the onslaught. Seeing the films today, one is awed not by the fight’s brevity but by its length—how could the German endure so much?
Seemingly frozen by Schmeling’s shriek, referee Donovan took a few seconds before stepping in, waving Louis back, and beginning to count for a standing knockdown. Schmeling lurched off the ropes and wove toward the center of the ring. Louis met him, and a left and a furious right to the head sent the challenger to the canvas for a count of three. No veteran in control of himself would have risen so soon.
Louis attacked again. A left and a right snapped Schmeling’s head around and dropped him for a second time. He landed on his knees, his hands lightly resting on the floor, and, incredibly, rose at the count of one. A fierce left hook and yet another of Louis’ whistling rights sent him tumbling for the last time. As his back twitched convulsively on the canvas, his trainer threw in the towel. That gesture of surrender was no longer recognized in New York, and the referee whirled and threw the cloth out of the ring. When he turned back to Schmeling (the timekeeper’s count stood at five), Donovan saw that the challenger was helpless and waved his arms to end the fight.
Schmeling was soon up, his face unmarked, and was able to push through the mob in the ring and congratulate the winner. Shortly thereafter he was rushed to a hospital, his driver taking a circuitous route to avoid the bedlam in Harlem. As Louis’ fans filled the twenty blocks of Seventh Avenue closed off for street dancing, cables from Goebbels and other ranking Nazis began to arrive expressing condolences and assuring everyone that Max would not be arrested. As the columnists hurried to file stories abusing Schmeling for crying foul or instructing him on what to tell Hitler when he got back to Germany, ten thousand hometown fans danced in the streets of Detroit beneath a waving banner that proclaimed, “Joe Louis Knocked Out Hitler.”
There was black jubilation in the rural South, too—of another, quieter kind. President Jimmy Carter told part of the story in his autobiography, Why Not the Best?: “All of our black neighbors came to see Daddy when the second Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight was to take place. There was intense interest, and they asked if they could listen to the fight. We propped the radio up in the open window of our house, and we and our visitors sat and stood under a large mulberry tree nearby. … My father was deeply disappointed in the outcome. … There was no sound from anyone in the yard, except a polite ‘Thank you, Mister Earl’ offered to my father. Then, our several dozen visitors filed across the dirt road, across the railroad track, and quietly entered a house about a hundred yards away out in the field. At that point, pandemonium broke loose inside that house, as our black neighbors shouted and yelled in celebration of the Louis victory. But all the curious, accepted proprieties of a racially segregated society had been carefully observed.”
Before morning a rumor that Max had died from the beating he took was spreading through New York. The New York Times ’s switchboard handled twenty-one hundred calls about his condition, and the hospital’s phones were so badly tied up that it was compelled to issue radio bulletins.
The next day the German press said that the fight was too short to prove much. One German fan was quoted as saying, “Yes, Schmeling may have been almost killed, but Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony still lives on.”
As a symbol of American strength in a time of growing world tensions, as an American rebuttal of Nazi racist propaganda, and as a sweet moment for black Americans in an era filled with bitter ones, the Brown Bomber’s triumph over the Teuton became a memory to savor.
The fight still survives as memory and symbol, but even two weeks after the bout its intrinsic unimportance in world affairs was clear. As the ship carried Max Schmeling—still bedridden—back toward Europe, in early July, and as the champion’s managers sought new opponents, there was no evidence that the march of events toward another world war had been hastened or hindered in the slightest by Joe Louis’fists.
Schmeling’s arrival in Berlin, July 9, was less important sports news for Americans than yesterday’s baseball scores. It was, to be sure, a tribute to Louis’ power that Max still sometimes needed support when he walked, but the notion that the loss to a Negro might lead to a prison term for a gallant, aging sportsman who had done his best was too ridiculous to bring up again. The hullabaloo was over. Max Schmeling was home. The quiet crowd that greeted him numbered about two dozen.