Joe Louis and Coca Cola. You’ll have to ask Coca Cola why Max Schmeling, the German fighter Joe defeated in 1938 in a return match, was able to buy a Coca Cola bottling and distribution franchise for Germany in 1948, and Joe Louis couldn’t do the same stateside. You want my opinion. Joe was black. Whether the head man at Coca Cola made that decision or someone else, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them, and they’re dead.
You think the fact Joe was black would have made any difference to me. Heck no. I would have still been drinking Coca Cola. I think my friends would have asked, “You think Joe Louis actually touched this bottle?” They would have taken it home, and put it in a display case. Though raised in the Deep South, I was never taught to hate black people. In fact one of my best friends was a black lady in her forties.
Joe Louis, probably the most famous American in the 1930s, and I would dare say after WWII, served in the Army. Max, when Jews were being persecuted by the Nazis saved two Jewish brothers, one of them becoming successful in the States after WWII, and acknowledging in 1989 what Max did. No one publicly knew about that before then. Max did serve for Germany in WWII as a paratrooper, dictated to by Hitler, but that still not make Max like the Nazi regime or what they were trying to do.
By the 1950s Max was on his way to becoming a millionaire thanks to Coca Cola. Joe was being hounded for owing $100,000 to the IRS. Joe had raised millions for the WWII war effort. You’ll have to ask the IRS Commissioner who is now dead, why he went after Joe then. My guess. Joe was black. Because of his extraordinary work during WWII, the Defense Department could have stepped in, and had the IRS cancel the debt, or threatened to bomb their building if they didn’t. I think the IRS would have complied.
Joe should have been sitting there with a Coca Cola bottling and distribution franchise in the States, and being able to pay off his IRS debt. Instead he wound up in nothingness fights, making little money, and then in the big fight lost to Rocky Marciano again in the ring he had defended for all those years as a boxer. Rocky’s brother, according to one report, regarded Joe as such an icon, he was pulling for Joe the night his brother Rocky fought Joe.
Of course the IRS debt interest kept ticking, although just about everything Joe earned was confiscated by the IRS. The money for fights and other endeavors such as wrestling was meager compared to the need, except for the Marciano fight. Joe had so many debts to other individuals by then, he wound up with nothing, and a bigger IRS debt.
The IRS debt became $500,000 and then in the 1960s $1.5 million. His then third wife, a lawyer, finally negotiated a deal with the IRS to erase that debt, and only tax Joe on future earnings.
Joe liked spending money, and he did so. I’m not sure his manager and trainer didn’t siphon off some of his earnings when money was flowing in. They’re dead now, and you’ll have to ask them.
But no iconic hero should have to hit the canvass like Joe did, his last legit job as a greeter at Caesar’s in Vegas, if you want to count that as legit. Joe knew the owner.
That rips at me today. A man who came from Alabama, a sharecropper’s son, whose grandparents were slaves. I don’t like to see my heroes treated like that. A man who came out of poverty and made it, and it disintegrated in front of him.
Joe died in 1981, a broken man, probably a broke man, you’d have to ask his son about that. Joe had set up a trust fund for his son and daughter back in time, and the IRS took those. Nice folks, the IRS.
But a person’s mind and imagination can picture a point in time for Joe in his glory days of the thirties. A quiet person out of the ring, you might have even had trouble hearing what Joe said. A gentleman at all times, not siding with the young, raucous black men of the 1960s. He must have been saying that is not the way to do it.
If Joe were still around, and I could say one thing to him, this is what it would be. “Joe, I don’t drink Coca Cola anymore. I drink Pepsi.”