June 22, 1937: At Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, Joe Louis became the first African-American World heavyweight champion since Jack Johnson when he dethroned James Braddock, knocking out “The Cinderella Man” in the eighth round.
“For one night, in all the dark towns of America, the black man was king,” wrote Alistair Cooke.
Braddock was able to knock Louis down in round one, but afterward, he struggled to accomplish more. Louis’ ascent to the World Heavyweight Championship was complete.
Louis’s victory was a seminal moment in African American history. Thousands of people stayed up all night across the country in celebration.
Noted author and member of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes described Louis’s effect in these terms:
“Each time Joe Louis won a fight in those depression years, even before he became champion, thousands of black Americans on relief or W.P.A., and poor, would throng out into the streets all across the land to march and cheer and yell and cry because of Joe’s one-man triumphs. No one else in the United States has ever had such an effect on Negro emotions – or on mine. I marched and cheered and yelled and cried, too.”
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