Joe Louis WWII poster

This rare propaganda poster featuring legendary boxer Joe Louis in the National D-Day Memorial collection is one of Virginia’s “Top 10 Endangered Artifacts.”

A rare propaganda poster featuring legendary boxer Joe Louis in the National D-Day Memorial collection is one of Virginia’s “Top 10 Endangered Artifacts.”

The public can vote to preserve this piece of World War II history, which will help the National D-Day Memorial secure a $1,000 artifact preservation award.

Votes many be made online at vamuseums-org.wishpond.com/virginia-s-top-10-endangered-artifacts-2020/entries/193780290/reference. Online voting for the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts ends Wednesday, Jan. 20.

This year for the first time, the Virginia Association of Museums, longtime sponsor of the endangered artifacts program, is emphasizing items representing minority stories. Accordingly, the National D-Day Memorial nominated a recruitment poster featuring Pvt. Louis, in uniform and brandishing his rifle, encouraging all Americans that “… we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.”

Louis, known as the “Brown Bomber,” was a world heavyweight boxing champion throughout World War II. While often remembered for his talents in the ring, less well known is his patriotic support for the U.S. war effort. Determined to do his part, Louis donated his awards from prize fights to veterans causes before enlisting in the Army in 1942 — setting aside the lucrative career that had made him a millionaire.

During the war, Louis saw combat only in the ring, when he boxed in exhibition matches for military personnel. Wildly popular with both the African American and white communities in the U.S., his efforts to raise morale, entertain the troops and encourage the wounded made him even more of a hero to many.

He also quietly pushed for reforms and fairness in the segregated military of WWII. When one young black soldier got into a fight with a racist white sergeant, Louis quietly used his influence to keep the soldier from a court martial and get him into officer candidate school. That young soldier was Jackie Robinson.

Louis allowed his image to be used to drum up recruitment and support for the war. The nominated 1942 poster is one such example. Louis’ quote is from an earlier speech he made to support the war effort, which became a rallying cry.

The surviving poster is soiled in places, torn and threatened with fading if displayed. The piece is in dire need of professional conservation.

“The role of African Americans in World War II is a story too often overlooked in our history,” noted April Cheek-Messier, president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation. “The wartime participation and support of minorities, even for a nation where their rights were not respected, was vital to ultimate victory. Joe Louis was an important voice for America’s black community — a community who fought for their rights both abroad and at home during the war. We are thrilled that this poster and its history are getting some attention.”

The National D-Day Memorial, located in Bedford — the town suffering the highest per capita D-Day losses in the nation — honors the Allied forces that participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 during World War II.

Read more stories in the current issue of the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper. Pick up a copy or subscribe at www.smithmountaineagle.com/subscriber_services to view articles in the print and/or e-edition version.

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