Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling (1938) - Margery Miller Welles (Part I)

A founding author of Sports Illustrated, my grandma has been 
nominated to join the International Boxing Hall of Fame. 

Margery Miller Welles -my grandma- witnessed one of the 
most important sporting events in American history in 1938 at age 15 when 
her father took her to Yankee Stadium to watch Joe Louis fight Max Schmeling. 
For her Wellesley College thesis she wrote a bio of Joe titled, 
"Joe Louis: American" which was published before she graduated in 1945 and 
reviewed by Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer and Eleanor Roosevelt

An excerpt from Joe Louis: American:

15. Joe's Greatest Victory 

          The eve of the second Schmeling fight was one of the most vivid occasions in the annals of boxing. It seemed that half the world had come to New York to watch the German and the Negro meet at Yankee Stadium. Forty-ninth Street near Eighth Avenue was crammed with boxing celebrities and fans. Wandering from one restaurant to another, one could hear of nothing but the coming fight. Jimmy Braddock and Jack Dempsey were in the crowd, "Louis will take him," said Braddock with an air of finality. "Can't see anything but Schmeling," Dempsey remarked.
          Managers, trainers, referees, judges, sports writers, promoters, seconds- all the boxing world who could get to the battle scene came. They milled along the sidewalks talking and gesticulating. Many an earnest debater struck a boxing pose to illustrate a point he was making. "Look, what I mean, Louis will do this, and then Max, he'll counter like this…" On and on they argued, while the orchestras played in the restaurants and the nightclubs, which the bright lights of stores and bars lit up the eager faces of those on the street. Often, very often, the psychological elements of the contest were brought in. "Max is inspired by the feeling he is leading a new race movement," someone said. "He feels he's Hitler's representative. He'll be hard to lick because of it." But a sportswriter took the author aside and said, "Look, I know Joe Louis pretty well, and if anybody's psychology is important, it's his. You know Max has been laughing at him and saying the negro is afraid of him. Well, Joe doesn't get mad easily, but he's mad now. He's mad at Schmeling's whole attitude toward his race. He doesn't talk much about it, but tomorrow night- look out. He's waited two years for this, and waiting hasn't been easy. Something's ready to explode."
Photo of Margery Miller Welles taken around  the same time
she sawJoe Louis defeat Max Schmeling (1938)

          At last night came. Swarms of people began to move toward the stadium. A large percentage of them were Negroes, Jews, or other anti-Nazis. They were going to cheer for Louis. Some had been expected to boycott the bout, but their hate of everything Nazi was so strong they determined to go in the hope of seeing Schmeling "get his." Others of the throng that descended upon the stadium were uncertain whether they should cheer for Schmeling because he was white or for Louis because Max was a Nazi. Most of them, however, leaned a trifle toward Louis. A small minority of those who jammed the subways and "els" that lead to the battleground were for Schmeling. Most of them came from Yorkville, the German section of New York.
          The air outside of the stadium was charged with electricity. The crowd that stood in line before the gates was restless, suspicious, sensitive. It seemed that all their hates and fears were centered that night on Yankee Stadium.

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