By Chris “Man of Few Words” Benedict
During a highly publicized White House tête-à-tête bringing together the Commander-in-Chief and World Heavyweight Champion, Franklin Roosevelt made a spectacle of feeling Joe Louis’ biceps while declaring, “These are the arms we need to beat the Germans.”
The seventh of eight children born in a cramped Alabama shack to his black father Munroe and half/Cherokee mother Lillie-sharecroppers whose parents had been slaves-Louis may have initially been politically indifferent but his co-manager John Roxborough’s brother Charles (Michigan’s first black senator) had opened his eyes. So Joe must have been aware that FDR’s hand, the very one now shaking his own in anticipated congratulation, was in no hurry to put pen to paper issuing to the War Department an executive order which would have desegregated the U.S. military into which Louis would later be conscripted and play a large part in changing. More appalling still, Roosevelt-fearful of antagonizing or isolating Southern constituents whose votes would need to be counted upon for other public policies and programs, refused to enter anti-lynching bills into consideration for Congressional action. Even Eleanor would be more forgiving of Franklin’s sexual infidelity than of this iniquitous pretense.