Joe Louis’ hometown of LaFayette, Ala., will have a weekend full of events surrounding the unveiling of an 8-foot bronze statue of the Brown Bomber today.
Regarded by many as the greatest boxer of all time, Louis’ iconic status birthed an aura of influence that reached people of all colors, classes and beliefs. He was larger than the sport. He was an American hero.
Louis’ son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr., has experienced countless interactions with friends and strangers who have expressed how his father touched their lives.
“There’s no question that when the name ‘Joe Louis’ is spoken, you hear positive things,” Barrow Jr. said. “Joe Louis permeated our society in a way that no one else had. He was the heavyweight champ and an American hero when the country really needed one.”
Being from the South, Louis experienced racial disharmony first-hand in his community. He used his boxing talent and unwavering patriotism to help break the walls of racism. There’s no better way for the city of LaFayette to celebrate the final weekend of Black History Month.
“He forced the people of America to challenge their conscious on racism,” Barrow Jr. said. “Andrew Young told me that my father provided inspiration to him and Martin Luther King to do what they did.”
He was larger than life, making it fitting for the larger-than-life statue to be dedicated in his honor today. The statue will join Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena and the 24-foot bronze “The Fist” statue as this country’s most recognizable Brown Bomber monuments.
Sculptor Casey Downing Jr. of Mobile, Ala., was approached by the Joe Louis Statue Committee to produce the statue. He and John Farr, who owns the foundry that finished the statue, are two of a handful of people who have seen the completed statue. Downing, being a fan of boxing since his youth, has been given a rare opportunity to combine two of his passions into one project.
“I’ve been a boxing fan and a sculptor for most of my life,” Downing said. “I watched boxing with my father while growing up, and Joe Louis is the greatest fighter of all time. To be commissioned to do a sculpture of him is a great honor.”
Most associate Joe Louis’ upbringing with Detroit and overlook his Alabama roots. He was born into a sharecropper family and raised in the Buckaloo Mountain community until his family moved to Detroit when he was 12. The week-long celebration for the Brown Bomber is important for the placement and recognition of the LaFayette community in Louis’ life history.
The residents of the Buckaloo Mountain-LaFayette area have stories, tales and recollections of Joe Louis that the world deserves to hear. He would have been 95 years old today, so finding a living peer within five years of his age would be a great task.
George Floyd, 85, of Opelika, Ala., a distant cousin to Louis, grew up in the same Buckaloo Mountain community as Louis’ family — the Barrows.
“When I was in elementary and junior high, we would walk all the way from Buckaloo Mountain to the city (LaFayette) to hear his fights. There was a store owner that would put his radio over a loud speaker and the whole town would listen to the fights,” Floyd remembered. “I also remember when he was in the service. I was in the service as well — stationed in Italy. I saw him put on live exhibitions. I didn’t have a chance to speak with him then, but I shook his hand.”
The unveiling of the massive statue that’s set on a base made of Alabama red granite will be the culmination of two days of community events. The people of LaFayette and the surrounding communities pooled their resources to help raise the funds needed to properly honor Louis. It took several years to reach the $60,000 goal and now they can celebrate his legacy. His statue will be the first monument of any kind erected at the Chambers County Courthouse.
Joe Louis Barrow Jr. and his sister, Jacqueline Barrow, will be in attendance at the weekend’s events.
“I’m obviously very excited to partake in the events honoring my father in Chambers County,” Barrow Jr. said. “LaFayette will be on the list of places that’s fostering the memory of Joe Louis.”
The events began Friday with the Brown Bomber Gospel Explosion at LaFayette High School. The festivities continue this morning at 11 with a parade, grand marshaled by Barrow Jr., through downtown LaFayette. Finally, the statue will be unveiled on the west side of the Chambers County Courthouse at 2 p.m.