Fist of a Champion – Detroit’s Monument to Joe Louis

November 26, 2007

Joe Louis 2

Joe Louis 2, photo by buckshot.jones.

Scott writes I simply love this piece of art work. It says so much about the heart and soul, the toughness, about the town and the people who live here and have built this area. Joe Louis Barrow, aka “The Brown Bomber” is one of the all-time great boxers. The 24 x 24 x 11.5 feet Monument to Joe Louis was commissioned by Time Inc. for the City of Detroit to honor Joe Louis. It was created by sculptor Robert Graham and installed at Jefferson Avenue at Woodward, Detroit on October 16, 1986.

Robert Graham’s page on the Joe Louis Memorial says:

The monument is a 24-foot long arm and fist held in balanced suspension from a pyramidal support of bronze poles. Weighing approximately 8,000 lb., it rises 24 feet above a major downtown intersection.

The initial arm was modeled in clay at 14 inches in length. With the aid of a computer, a full-scale steel armature, 24 feet in length, was made and wrapped with wire and covered with clay. The final clay model was divided into eight sections and cast in bronze, then assembled. The pyramid structure was fabricated out of steel, and faced with bronze plates. A tribute to Joe Louis is inscribed on the arm.

Detroit Yes writes in Downtown Montage that he may be the only person in Detroit (other than Scott) who likes the Fist:

So great was Joe Louis that is difficult to measure the historical contribution of this immense figure who, without a close second, is by far the greatest sports figure to ever arise from Detroit and assume center stage on the world theater. It was he who helped shatter the Nazi myth of racial superiority with his dramatic defeat of German champion Max Schmeling during the rise of Nazism. In doing so and then serving his country nobly in the segregated army of World War II, he laid bare the disgraceful hypocrisy that denied Afro American athletes access to the major leagues of American sport, not to mention all Afro Americans who were and are denied the basic birthrights of American citizenship.

He did this with his fists and determination. So it is fitting that he is honored with a place at the center of his hometown with an artwork as powerful and controversial as he was.

You can get a birds eye view of the Joe Louis Memorial on the Absolute Michigan map of Michigan. Also see Monuments of Detroit from the Detroit News, a slideshow of photos of the Fist and a video look at the Joe Louis Fist Statue. For more about Joe Louis, Wikipedia’s Joe Louis entry and the Official site of the Joe Louis Estate.

19 Responses to “Fist of a Champion – Detroit’s Monument to Joe Louis”


  1. [...] arises in the work of public monument. These two, (the first memorializing the prize-winning boxer Joe Louis, the second, drug abuse tragedies at Rochdale College) might bring us to a deeper understanding of [...]


  2. [...] too restless to go up to his apartment. He decides to take a walk. He likes Hart Plaza; likes the defiant forearm and fist that points across the water, toward Windsor. He starts on his usual path. He passes the Spirit of [...]

  3. Jude Says:

    This is a gorgeous photo. I love the perspective. I just added a link to this in my blog: http://thedetroitvampirechronicles.com/


  4. [...] a bit sad that “The Fist” (info, KML, StreetView) didn’t make it in 3D, but that’s why Google gives us so many great [...]


  5. [...] abandoned. In the public art and sculpture which is evokes either an impassioned enlightenment and calculated power. And most eloquently, in the city’s music scene, which is as colorful and dynamic as the [...]


  6. [...] encomium to the fighting spirit of the city of Detroit. Featuring Detroit landmarks like the “Fist of a Champion” monument, the Fox Theatre, and Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry“, the ad [...]


  7. [...] in the Detroit area anyone not from there is familiar with.  No, what we see in this ad is the sculptures, statues & other artwork you’d expect in cities like New York, Los Angeles or Washington [...]


  8. [...] see, it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel.” And, a shot of the Joe Louis sculpture in downtown [...]


  9. [...] the imagery is compelling.  From Joe Louis’ fist to the Spirit of Detroit to Campus Martius to Detroit Industry, the city and its residents embrace [...]


  10. How proud I am to have been born and raised in Mi, I want to thank the sculpture for paying tribute to a man I had the opportunity to witness his training with my father in the 40′s, Joe Louis, My god Bless
    this man for showing the world what a true man can accompolish inspight of the racial tone in which he
    lived in..I’m tired of people putting Mich and Detroit down this city and state is just as prosperous as New york ,Chicago,Philly Callifornia Flordia, Ohio or Ga.I’m proud of Detroit and Michigan I will always be positive about my Hometown an look forward to returning and enjoying all it has to offer, if people, can’t make Mich. better,then leave, go somewhere, where you will be happy and remember, the only perfect place is Heaven…

  11. Ken Says:

    That is probably one of my favorite things to take pictures of when I’m in Detroit.

  12. Jess Says:

    I wondered what this was in the car ad, and this is not one of the possible ideas that went through my mind. Having seem so many union people raising their fists in protest lately, with a star of socialism on the fist in the signs, I thought it was a monument to union thuggery. You know, the standard “workers of the world, unite” or “get out in the street and get a little bloody” kind of mob rule mentality one might expect of a union city destroyed by union greed that priced them out of their jobs leaving Detroit devastated yet defiant. I’m glad to see it memorializes something of focused forcable achievement through sports, not forced union obedience. I doubt the effectiveness of the incusion of this ad to anyone outside of Detroit who doesn’t know the context of this sculpture and I think it gives a very negative impression without context. That said, knowing what it is supposed to be, I like the sculpture.

  13. 熟女 Says:

    シルバーアクセサリーのお手入れ方法

  14. Emma Says:

    I am writing an article for publication and would like to inquire how I might add this amazing image of the fist.


  15. [...] day, I might be able to use it should the weather be friendlier. I had taken some shots of the Fist of Joe Louis and toyed with the tones a little bit. Needless to say, I’m happy how they turned [...]


  16. [...] works of art featured in the Chrysler/Eminem “Imported from Detroit” Super Bowl ad. The Joe Louis Memorial, a shiny clean Spirit of Detroit, the murals of Diego Riviera (which Slate found ironic) and the [...]

  17. Kent Says:

    I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I came across this in my hunt for something
    regarding this.


  18. […] Does not really matter if you are talking about Detroit after WWII or Bolingbrook in the 70's or Plainfield in the 90's or CPS in the early 2000's or places like Logan Square right now when there is "superheated" expansion / shift the inevitably of an equally abrupt "snap back" is all but certain — Detroit's seeds of collapse absolutely were shown with a dysfunctional lack of investment in sane planning. When the population used their new found wealth from irresponsibly generous deals with the unions to move into bigger homes further from the factories the minority population was literally left behind as the unions were hostile to organizing / accepting those minorities into the same labor agreements. That left Detroit with a mismatch of folks that wanted / needed more city services and employers that found it cheaper to look elsewhere for new factories. On top of that mess the incompetent and corrupt city politicians in Detroit had ZERO restraint when it came to spending money on things that did not help make Detroit more viable — maybe the time to rethink overly generous deals with city workers was well before things came to a crisis. Things in Detroit are easy to spot as when they really got broken — you literally could not have a worse mayor than a drug addict when drug gangs were on the rise — Coleman Young – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia While public art never has a great return on investment only in a city as messed up as Detroit does it literally scares people away — the ideological mismatch between "pride" and economic reality are most sharp Fist of a Champion – Detroit’s Monument to Joe Louis | Michigan in Pictures […]


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