In Baltimore, Camphor listened with his mother, Emma, a fight fan, and his father, James Camphor Sr., an amateur boxer who taught him everything he knows about pro boxing. And he knows a lot. He once dabbled in the ring himself. He owns a pair of Muhammed Ali’s boxing gloves. He has traveled to dozens of fights, often with his wife, Peaches, including Ali-Frazier in New York and Tyson-Holyfield in Las Vegas, the same day Tupac was gunned down in front of the MGM Grand.
“He was lying on the sidewalk right in front of us,” Camphor said as Peaches nodded.
That night in 1938, though, Camphor was a pint-sized fight fan among many millions. The battle drew a larger audience than any event in history, according to historical reports.
As the two men climbed into the ring, an announcer noted that Schmeling wore purple trunks and called him “an outstanding contender.” Then, the bell rang.
“One left to the head, one left to the jaw, a right to the head,” the announcer said, outlining the blows that Louis showered on his opponent. “The gentleman (referee) is watching carefully.”
“Louis measures him. Right to the body. Left up to the jaw and Schmeling is down. The count is 5, 5, 6, 7, 8…The fight is over on a technical knockout. Max Schmeling is beaten in the first round!”
The fight had lasted a mere two minutes and four seconds.
“Schmeling’s head rocked like a cradle as Louis’s blows found their mark,” said an article published in the AFRO on July 2.
Broadwater remembers that there was complete silence during the fight.
“You could hear a pin drop, but when he won, the whole street yelled,” Broadwater said. “When he had lost two years earlier, it was all boos.”
Camphor recalled the reaction on Born Court in West Baltimore.
“We all burst out into the street and ran around like it was a parade!” he said.
Two years after Jesse Owens embarrassed Hitler at the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Louis had defeated another member of his so-called master race.
Broadwater, who went on to join the U.S. Army Air Corps as one of the Black pilots who later would be called the Tuskegee Airmen, said he met Louis several times, typically at posh night spots.
“He took a girlfriend of mine away,” Broadwater said. “She used to write to me in the service. When I came back and went looking for her, my friends said, ‘You can forget that. He bought her a fur coat.’”
Louis did a turn in the military, as well. “Win, lose or draw, Joe Louis will fight his last battle in the prize ring September 29, against Lou Nova. After that Joe will do his stint in the army,” said an AFRO story on Sept. 27, 1941 bearing the title “Joe Louis’s Last Fight.” It noted that he made “$2,000,000 with his fists” in six years.
Louis donated the purses from two fights to military causes. After a stint in the military, he returned to his career in the ring and fought successfully for several years. But in an AFRO story from Oct. 23, 1951 headlined “Don’t Cry For Me—Joe,” Assistant Managing Editor Art Carter detailed the demise of Louis’s career.