There was an arena, then a statue and even a fist.
Now Joe Louis, the famed boxer called the Brown Bomber for his knockout prowess and black heritage in a time of racial segregation, will have a greenway named after the native Detroit fighter who reigned as heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949.
The 26-mile Joe Louis Greenway, which was announced formally Friday on the west side by Mayor Mike Duggan, a gaggle of city officials and Louis family members, connects neighborhoods around the city that have been choked off from each other by freeways and link them together with pedestrian and bike paths and the international riverfront.
“Whether it’s the Joe Louis Arena, whether it’s the statue in Cobo Hall, whether it’s the fist, Detroit recognizes my father and it’s the Brown Bomber Joe Louis from Detroit,” said Joe Louis Jr., 70, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, after the ceremony. “So to have this greenway named after him is really a very special tribute to him and it continues the legacy of Detroit recognizing who Joe Louis was, what he meant to this country, what he meant to the world, what he meant to blacks, whites, rich or poor. Literally, Joe Louis was a hero of this country and the world. It continues that legacy that Detroit has created.”
Louis Jr., who was joined by his sister, Candice Joseph, 69, her husband George, and Louis’ 13-year-old granddaughter Nia Barrow-Henderson, all of Las Vegas, said his father would be proud of the greenway project because “he brought people together, communities together, and this is a fitting tribute.”
Duggan, who touted Louis’ boxing accomplishments as well as his community connection with Detroit, said the city needed to do something to honor the Brown Bomber — who famously knocked out German Max Schmeling in a rematch watched around the world in 1938 — once the Red Wings left Joe Louis Arena downtown.
“This is a day that’s been a long time coming,” the mayor said. “You know the story, 1937, Joe Louis knocked out James Braddock at Comiskey Park in the 8th round to be world heavyweight champion. And a year later, in Yankee Stadium in one of the most famous fights of all time, took on Max Schmeling who had come, fairly or unfairly, to represent Nazi Germany and knocked him out in the first round...uniting the country. And nearly a century later, the pride Detroit felt then still resonates.”
The mayor, who stood with the family with an artist’s portrait of Louis, recited a line from Louis that said one life is enough if you “live it right.”
“You must have done it right because, with today’s announcement, your father will live on forever in our hearts and in the neighborhoods of the city of Detroit,” Duggan told the family.
The design of the project, city officials said, will begin immediately with a studies and surveys and community involvement beginning next year. So far, the city has raised $10 million for the greenway and has applied for another $18 million in federal TIGER grants to continue construction.
The greenway, city officials said, will connect to adjacent communities to city neighborhoods, as well as to parks, bike lanes, routes and trails. It will connect neighboring areas such as Ferndale, Highland Park, Dearborn and Hamtramck.
Essentially, the project will allow residents in neighborhoods along the greenway to travel from Eight Mile to the Detroit Riverfront without a vehicle.
City officials say this was 15 years in the making and worked with the Detroit Greenways Coalition and the Kresge Foundation to make the project come alive. This year, the city purchased the “largest gap” of 7.5 miles in the greenway from Conrail.