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In search of Joe Louis and the last Tuskegee Airman:Which way did they go, George?

Tracking photos and how many miles did Joe Louis run?

 

By Khadi Madama with Eamo Clyne

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Joe Louis and Chappie
Joe Louis and Chappie

Eamo Clyne and I stood there in avid anticipation of being able to look through the Joe Louis ephemera in the heart of the museum’s archive room. When Eamo gets onto a notion, he’s like a heat seeking missile until he makes contact. He reminds me of famous cartoon movie reporter, Jimmy Olsen of the Superman comic series, and with his cap on and camera function of his phone ready to roll, he captured photos from the Joe Louis collection, which the curator generously took out and placed on the desk.

I watched this procession of items and camera/phone clicks go on for about 10 minutes and then remembered the one piece of the exhibit that I really wanted The Blue Collar Cat to see. The one I told him about on that day in 2017 when I first visited the Lakewood Historical Museum saw it for the first time. The poster-collage of Joe Louis 1930s clippings and photos made by local hero and American icon, the last living original Tuskegee Airman, George Watson, who had lovingly created the collage years ago and placed his own personal label on the back before donating it to the museum.

To all of our surprise, it simply wasn’t there. From the time I first saw it in May of 2017, until that day at the end of June 2019, it had simply vanished without a trace. A goodly amount of time was spent speculating about whether or not I had actually seen it there-which I did, to asking the volunteers and the intern if they had seen it, or had moved it to a larger box or other storage area, which they hadn’t.

George Watson had a connection to the museum for many years, so it was normal that he would have given it to them, since he loved Joe Louis. He loved Joe Louis enough to give away something he prized so that others could enjoy it, but someone else loved it too, selfishly. Not only was it about Joe, but it was handmade by George Watson with original news-clippings from Joe’s training camp for his fight against Max Schmeling in 1936. The curator was going to make a sweep of the museum archives and I had high hopes that it would have been found in time for The Blue Collar Cat to present An Afternoon With Joe Louis that fall. But to this day, it has never been recovered. So, Eamo and I are still “In Search of” the purloined collage of Joe Louis.

We also decided to retrace at least a portion of Joe’s training path around Lake Carasaljo where news-clippings said he would run around the 4 ½ mile lake. I’d love to tell you that Eamo and I ran that whole thing using a distance measuring app so we could run across the same bridge in the photo of Joe and Chappie Blackburn, but in reality, we simply pulled the car around and got out and took photos of each other crossing it. At least we’re honest. The thing is, all reliable sources say that the lake is, indeed, 4 ½ miles around, so why does it say in some accounts that Joe ran 6 miles? We aren’t referred to as “The Boxing Detectives” for nothin’ so we did a little more digging.

We asked questions and got answers. Joe lived at The Stanley Hotel during his training camp. We used GPS and discovered that The Stanley is just a little over 1 ½ miles from Lake Carasaljo, hence the 6-mile reference. Joe would step down on the lawn and take off the 11 blocks to the lake, bringing that mystery to a conclusion.

Like every other city in the nation and many around the globe, Joe Louis is a beloved American Hero. Moreover, many people from all walks of life, if you ask them, have a personal Joe Louis story to tell; from the cab driver, to the train conductor, to the bus terminal ticket seller to the people you meet coming and going. One thing that will never get lost, stolen or go missing is the love and respect for Joe Louis.

Post Note: George Watson passed away in 2017, having received many honors and rewards. I knew him as I had attended his presentations and generously received his signature on a letterhead regarding my mother’s part in aviation in WWII.

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