That contrasted with the way the press painted Louis. A photo caption in LIFE said, "In the ring, Louis is lithe, shuffling and stolid. Outside he is lethargic, uncommunicative, unimaginative." Bill Corum of the New York Journal wrote, "He's a big, superbly built Negro youth, who was born to listen to jazz music, eat a lot of fried chicken, play ball with the gang on the corner and never do a lick of heavy work he could escape."
Jacobs encouraged the lazy-boy image. He knew Braddock had no chance, and he was afraid that if the public came to see the fight as the mismatch it really was, few would attend. Jacobs's publicists suggested again and again that Louis was fat and lazy. Some 50,000 people jammed Comiskey Park for the fight. Almost half of them were black. While Louis waited in his corner, Jack Blackburn said, "This is it, Chappie. You come home a champ tonight." In the first round Braddock knocked Louis down for one surprised instant. The crowd screamed in anticipation. But that was it for the champion. After seven rounds Braddock was visibly exhausted and had a bad cut over his left eye and a split lip. His manager suggested they throw in the towel, but Braddock muttered through bloody lips, "If you do, I'll never speak to you again as long as I live."
At 1:10 of the eighth round Louis landed a vicious right. Braddock hit the canvas facedown. Slowly Louis turned his back on the prostrate man and walked to a neutral corner. The referee began to count. Louis gazed out over the crowd. The count reached 10. Expressionless, Louis raised his right hand. A group of policemen surrounded him. The winner—and new heavyweight champion of the world—was a black man. At 23, he was the youngest person ever ' " to hold the title.
For whites, Joe Louis as champion was an interesting phenomenon. For blacks, he was a messiah. Barred from the mainstream of U.S. society, they long ago developed their own distinct culture. Generations of blacks sang this song:
Got one mind for white folks to see,
'Nother for what I know is me;
He don't know, he don't knowmy mind.
Because white newspapers ignored them, blacks developed their own press. It was essentially middle class and conservative with an integrationist and assimilationist emphasis, evident in ads for skin whiteners and hair straighteners. Black papers covered Louis well before any white ones did. He remembered in his autobiography: "I started noticing some things I thought were strange. A lot of black people would come to me and want to kiss me, pump my hand. I thought they were congratulating me for my fighting skills. Now they started saying things like, 'Joe, you're our savior' and 'Show them whites!' I didn't understand, then."
When he got his big break in 1935—the New York fight with Primo Carnera—he immediately became the most prominent black in America. After that victory—and after all the others that followed—thousands of blacks poured into the streets of Northern cities to celebrate. In the South, the jubilation had to be restrained. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou described a tiny store in Stamps, Ark. during a radio broadcast of a Louis fight:
"The last inch of space was filled, yet people continued to wedge themselves along the walls of the Store. Uncle Willie had turned the radio up to its last notch so that youngsters on the porch wouldn't miss a word.
"...He's got Louis against the ropes and now it's a left to the body and a right to the ribs...and it looks like Louis is going down!
"My race groaned. It was our people failing. It was another lynching.... One more woman ambushed and raped...hounds on the trail of a man running through slimy swamps. It was a white woman slapping her maid.... If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help. It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings....