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History

Pulling back the curtain on all the great debates and controversies of American History.

June 10, 2016

Episode 25 - Brown Bombers and Aryan Supermen: Race and Sport in the 1930s

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In 1936, not long after German heavyweight boxer Max Schmeling knocked out his African-American opponent, Joe Louis, the journal Der Weltkampf published the following statement:

“These countries cannot thank Schmeling enough for this victory for he checked the arrogance of the Negro race and clearly demonstrated to them the superiority of white intelli- gence. He restored the prestige of the white race and in doing so accomplished a cultural achievement. I for one am convinced that Schmeling was fully conscious of this fact and that he fought as a representative of the white race.... The victory of Italy in Abyssinia must be regarded in the same light.... After the war started there was only one thing left, the fight of a white against a black nation. This has become a racial fight. The same question must be asked: What would have happened if Abyssinia had won? The same answer applies: the whole black world would have risen up against the white race in arrogance and bestial cruelty.”

Were these horrific attitudes towards a man whom many experts regard as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time confined to Nazi Germany? Or did his own countrymen view the great Joe Louis as inferior, unworthy of the status of a great champion? And what of other great athletes such as Jesse Owens? How did white America react? In order to answer these and other questions, today on American history too, we’ll be exploring the complex, convoluted, and at often appalling history of race and sport in inter-war America.

Scholarship

In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens - Donald McRae

The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and the Struggle for Racial Equality - Thomas R. Hietala

Ring of Hate: The Brown Bomber and Hitler's Hero - Joe Louis, Max Schmeling and the Bitter Propaganda War - Patrick Myler 

Beyond Glory: Max Schmeling vs Joe Louis and a World on the Brink - David Margolick

Joe Louis: Hard Times Man - Randy Roberts

Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes - Randy Roberts

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson - Geoffrey C. Ward

A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring Twenties - Roger Kahn

Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936 - David Clay Large

Hitler's Olympics: The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games - Christopher Hilton

Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series - Eliot Asinof

The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth - Leigh Montville

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