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Object of the Month- Pvt. Joe Louis

In honor of Black History Month, we thought it would be appropriate to share an artifact with a strong African American hero. This poster from World War II shows Joe Louis and his motivation words, a concept that became a household idea for Americans during this time.

Pvt. Joe Louis Poster from World War II.

“… and we’ll win because we’re on God’s side,” became an important slogan during World War II. Pvt. Joe Lewis, a well known African American boxer, made this phrase a household thing during this time. During the Second World War, this poster was seen throughout the country and Pvt. Louis’ statement inspired other young men to join and support the fight, which made his a very popular advocate for American pride.

First of all, I don’t want to scare anyone away with dates (since that’s all that history is right? Wrong.), so I will keep them to a minimal. In 1936, Joe Louis, or ‘Brown Bomber,’ met his match in a white German man. Max Schmeling, the German heavy weight, played his strengths and knocked out Louis, who had not expected to have such a strong competitor. This gave Hitler the ammunition he needed to spread even more racist propaganda to the German people, by saying that Schmeling’s victory proves white superiority, and moreover, America’s weakness, no matter the race. However, two years later the boxers met up again in 1938 for a rematch. Their fight became one of the most remembered sporting events of the 20th Century and Louis told reporters that “the whole damned country was depending on [him].”

Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling in 1936

After a mere two minutes and four seconds (which probably felt more like a lifetime), Louis had defeated Schmeling, and secured a victory in the ring, but it was also a symbolic victory for America and for the African American community. In 1942, he moved away from the boxing ring and enlisted in the U.S. Army.

This poster used Pvt. Joe Louis to gain the hearts of Americans and encourage other African American men to join the cause and support their country. On March 27, 1942, Louis participated in a military charity. He spoke at the dinner where he spoke the inspirational words seen on this poster: “We’re going to do our part… and we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.” This unapologetic statement was then spread and heard throughout the nation, suggesting that Allied forces were guaranteed a victory over the Axis powers.

During the War, Louis never saw an actual combat. He was moved to the Special Services Division, where he and toured with celebrities to visit troops. While touring he became an advocate for encouraging African-American men to enlist. During his tours he worked with other celebrities, most notable was Sugar Ray Robinson.

This poster is more than a piece of propaganda. It shows a black man’s struggle to fight for his country. While ‘Bomber Brown’ fought within the boxing ring, Pvt. Joe Louis fought with his words, to encourage other men, inspired those on the home front, and to speak out against racism and segregation.

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