Jakoubek’s book, published in 1990, spans Louis’ life, from 1914 to 1981: sixty-seven years that included two world wars, the Great Depression, a highly segregated society, and, finally, the legal end of racial segregation. Jakoubek captures the tenor and trauma of the times through depicting young Louis living in poverty both in rural Alabama and in Detroit during the Great Depression. He accentuates the dichoto-mous values of American society by presenting accounts in which the adult Louis was treated as a national hero and others in which he was treated as a second-class citizen. For young readers, the story poignantly portrays the unjust and oppressive treatment of a minority in recent history. The setting and the story of the struggles, successes, and conflicts of the man who became the United States’ first African-American hero creates in the young reader an awareness of and empathy for any who suffer injustices and oppression. For African-American youth, the story of Joe Louis provides a legacy and a hero of whom they can be proud.
Joe Louis: Heavyweight Champion is one of fifty biographies in the “Black Americans of Achievement” series, which includes historical and contemporary characters from all walks of life. Coretta Scott King introduces each with an essay on achievement, emphasizing that achievement is service. In tribute to the men and women in the series, she refers to them as “drum majors” who served humanity and whose stories are “special and worth knowing.”