Richie Partington's Reviews > A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis

A Nation's Hope by Matt de la Pena
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it was amazing
bookshelves: picturebooks-for-older-readers

13 January 2011 A NATION'S HOPE: THE STORY OF BOXING LEGEND JOE LEWIS by Matt de la Pena and Kadir Nelson, ill., Dial, January 2011, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-8037-3167-7

"The world waits for Joe Louis to take the ring,take center stage
White men wait standing by black men
but standing apart Jim Crow America

"All to witness the most important
match in boxing history
Soft-spoken Joe Lewis against the one man
who put him on his back

"But Joe knows tonight's fight is bigger than any two men
Son of a black sharecropper
against Hitler's 'master race'
Black and white Americans
together against the rule of Nazi hate"

A NATION'S HOPE is an exceptional picturebook for older readers. Matt de la Pena's lyrical text is every bit as stunning as Kadir Nelson's unforgettable illustrations. This is a book that is exciting to read and which selection and awards committees will no doubt be examining a year from now. It is one that I will be sharing with my Picturebooks for Older Readers students later this year.

A NATION'S HOPE provides a good introduction to Joe Louis, who was world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949 and is considered by some to be the first African American to achieve the status of nationwide hero. He achieved this status because of his boxing victory over Nazi Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938 (and because his managers worked hard to fashion his image as being the antithesis of another black champion, Jack Johnson, who, a generation earlier, had been hated and feared by so much of white America).

I'd certainly heard about Joe Louis, a.k.a The Brown Bomber, when I was growing up, and A NATION'S HOPE alternates between the tale of Louis's ascent and that dramatic night in Yankee Stadium.

But, I find myself wondering as I read this tale what kind of weird people live in America. This is, on one level, the story of how a bunch of white people in America stopped hating at least one black guy for one night because they hated Nazis even more. It has me wondering where other people who were hated in America would have fit into this equation. If Joe Louis was black AND gay, would they still have hated the Nazi more? What about if Joe Louis was black and a Muslim, or if he had a white girlfriend like Jack Johnson? What if he had ignored his managers' strict rules of conduct and had done stuff like trash talk his defeated white American opponents?

I wonder if there was a statistically significant decrease in the number of blacks lynched in America in the wake of this fight. There certainly was no subsequent changes in the enforcement of those Jim Crow laws. Undoubtedly, as a result of their admiration for Joe Louis, some white Americans became more open to seeing people of color as real people, but knowing the violence against and hatred for those seeking Civil Rights that I saw regularly on the evening news a generation later (from my all-white, red-lined, childhood suburban community), I have to wonder how much Joe Louis really changed America.

But for one night, one amazing black boxing legend did marshal the enthusiasm of white Americans who wanted him to beat the crap out of the Nazi. As we learn in A NATION'S HOPE, it was so exciting when Schmeling's corner threw in the towel that some white guys totally lost all their inhibitions and were actually seen hugging black guys in Yankee Stadium.

What I can't help wondering is whether white guys would have the balls to do the same thing in public if the fight had taken place in Birmingham or Little Rock.

Richie Partington, MLIS
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 5, 2011 – Shelved
February 25, 2019 – Shelved as: picturebooks-for-older-readers

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