Joe Louis and Jesse Owens in the 1930′s
(May 13, 1914 – April 12, 1981) and Jesse Owens
(September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) were both born in Alabama. They were the grandsons of slaves and the sons of sharecroppers. They both stammered as kids before their families migrated north in the 1920’s, where they began their athletic careers; Owens as a runner in Cleveland and Louis as a boxer in Detroit.
Both Owens and Louis became heroic figures at a time when baseball, basketball and football were still segregated. Owens defied Hitler and Brundage; Louis defeated Schmeling and fought his way to victory in the 1930’s and 40’s.
After the 1936 Olympics, the US track and field team was scheduled to compete in Sweden. Owens opted to return to the U.S., thinking he would get lucrative endorsement offers. The US Olympic Committee was furious that he returned home to capitalize on his success. They stripped him of his amateur status and banned him from further competitions.
Unlike Owens, who had been banished so young, Louis fought for years. He held the world heavyweight title from 1937 to 1949 and made 25 successful championship defenses.Owens and Louis remained friends for 45 years, and both died at the age of 66.