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OVER THE BROWN BOMBER - JUNE 22, 1937
Juanita Nash Gonzalez
When today's senior citizens speak about growing up during the Great Depression, a comment heard very often is "We kids didn't know we were poor." My recollection is the same because, like them, I was provided for and I was occupied with being a child, embraced and nurtured by family, friends neighbors, school, and church. I never thought that we were poor.
The discomfort that did impact on me was the ongoing disadvantage of being Colored in a White World. In Washington, D.C., at the time, segregation of brown-skinned residents was tolerated as a Fact-of-Life. We were relegated (of universal faith), separate hospital wards, separate YMCA/YWCA, separate movie houses, separate train coaches, a separate site for Easter egg rolling (not the White House). And in our households, we were cautioned to not make trouble by being defiant.
The segregation experience in the nation's capital during the 30's and 40's was overt, forthright, and tolerated; but there were other indignities that were insidious. Paramount in my recollection is that the media in its publications and broadcasts omitted reporting positive news about African-Americans, both locally and nationally. Our achievers and heroes were not recognized, acknowledged, or celebrated in the daily news, probably on the assumption that the general public didn't care. The dark force we saw on the front page were lawbreakers and lynch victims; in our schools books, it was a Little Black Sambo; at the grocery, it was the Gold Dust Twins and Aunt Jemima.
During the decades of political, economic, and social changes since the Depression years, our nation and the world have recognized and publicized black achievements to the extent that race does not appear to be an issue. On June 22, 1937, race was an issue for the boxing bout between Joe Louis (The Brown Bomber) and Jim Braddock. Unoffical, but not unspoken, it was an issue whose moment I didn't understand at that time. I was nine years old; but I did sense the excitement. The fight was for the World Heavyweight Championship and the buzz was about whether Joe Louis could win, whether he would be allowed to win, whether there would be a knockout, whether he could replicate Jack Johnson (1908) by winning the heavyweight title.
During the course of that day people in the block were gearing up for the broadcast from Chicago. They were inviting themselves to the homes of those who had a radio. They were making bets and predicting the outcome. During the broadcast, nobody was outside, they were gathered around the radio to hear the blow-by-blow. I don't recall listening to the radiocast; but I have a persisting memory of what happened on our block after the Brown Bomber scored an eighth round knockout of James Braddock. People burst out of the house with radios, jumping and shouting:
"He won! He won! He got up and beat that white boy! He's the Champ! Yeah, Joe! You won! How about that?"
In a little while came the scene and sounds and spirit I remember so vividly. First come the sounds from the south end of the block - unison shouting, rhythmic beating of metal containers, car horns, whistles, and stomping feet. As the group passed by, others joined in the march. The march was to the beat of this cant, repeated over and over:
Braddock got Beeeeeeaaat up! Braddock got beeeeeaaat up!
(Unison) Bang-bang! Toot-toot! Clang-clang! Boom-boom!
Stamp-stamp! Clap-clap! Whistle-whistle! Yes-yes!
The sound continued as the crowd moved on to the next block. The enormity of it was thrilling and almost frightening to nine year old me!
We and the world had an undeniable hero, a positive image that prevails to this
Joseph Louis Barrow - The Brown Bomber
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