Hitler’s Nazism, Sport, and Joe Louis: Racism vs. Pseudo-Democracy in America
Jessica Lynn Graham
Robert L. Harris, Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 2000 G734
xii, 142 leaves: ill.; 29 cm.
This thesis analyzes the racial status quo of pre-World War II American society. Through the exploration of boxing history during this era, this thesis exposes the nature of domestic race relations through three essential arguments. Firstly, sport is a patriotic American activity with socio-political significance. This society's patriotic reaction to athletic competition reflects the values, principles and ideologies of America. Furthermore, this thesis demonstrates that via the examination of the first two African American heavyweight champions, Jack Johnson and Joe Lewis, respectively, two main components of American patriotism are revealed - the notions of white superiority and "democracy." Clearly, this thesis questions the practice of American "democracy", hence the term "pseudo- democracy" in the subtitle.
The second theme of this thesis illustrates the role Adolf Hitler's Nazism played in white America's relationship with Joe Louis and domestic race relations. In 1938, activities in Europe led most Americans to become significantly concerned with Hitler's potential success. It was also in 1938 that Joe Louis became the American icon of "democracy" when he battled Max Schemling, accused German Nazi. The paralleled rise of Hitler's power and Louis' celebrity was absolutely no coincidence. Whites rallied behind Louis during the 1938 match, and upheld him as a symbol of all that was good about America. Before 1938, however, Joe Louis was rarely perceived as an American representative by Whites. Instead, he was limited to the part of race champion, and was seen as the hero of Black people, but no one else.
Finally, thesis probes the significance of Joe Louis' blackness to white America beginning in 1938 and continuing throughout the war period. Fascism, which was seen as antithetical to "democracy," was founded on racism in Nazi Germany. Much to the horror of many western nations, Hitler pinpointed the systems of racism and white supremacy employed by western countries as the role model followed by the Third Reich. Therefore, if a nation was to be considered a "democracy" during Hitler's chancellorship, it needed to prove that it was not racist. Thus, the fact that Louis was an African American was advantageous for America's image. As a Black man who had climbed the pugilistic rungs of success, and was also adored by the white and Black public, Joe Louis offered this country the veneer of racial equality it wanted to present to the world, and most importantly, to itself.