glove-boxing-joe-louis

The boxing gloves were worn by Joe Louis in the first Max Schmeling fight, which took place on June 19, 1936, at Yankee Stadium in NYC. ((Courtesy of Ken Milburn))

Ken Milburn knows he could have sold a pair of boxing gloves that once belonged to late heavyweight champion Joe Louis for a princely sum.

But the Windsor man wanted to see this piece of American cultural and political history preserved in what he saw as the proper place— Washington's Smithsonian Institution.

The gloves, worn by Louis in his first fight with German Max Schmeling in 1936, have been in Milburn's family since then. And he wasn't going to sell them.

"The bottom line is, they're not for sale," Milburn told CBC Radio. "They could be worth two cents, they could be worth two million, who really cares?

"My aunt and uncle kept those gloves for at least 60 years. They didn't sell them," he says. "I don't believe the intent is I receive, or anyone receive, any monetary value for them. They are going where they belong."

They might have gone elsewhere.

In an interview with CBC.ca, Milburn says he phoned the International Boxing Hall of Fame three times to tell them about the gloves but "they didn't call back."

He also tried the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association, hoping they might be able to sell the gloves and use the money to help young fighters here, and they didn't call back either.

When Milburn contacted the Smithsonian they phoned right away. Once they had taken a look at them he received another call from the museum's Dr. Ellen Hughes.

"She said, 'Tell us what we can do or say to get the gloves,' " he says.

One expert on boxing memorabilia, Wally Boshyk of Toronto's Legends of the Game, estimates the gloves could bring up to $100,000 US as a base price out on the market. But if two collectors at an auction both wanted the piece, that number could go to $500,000 US.

Louis's gloves came into the family through Milburn's late uncle and aunt, Earle and Beulah Cuzzens.

Uncle Earle, who was at Yankee Stadium for the 1936 fight, was in the same business as both of Louis's managers, "known at the time as 'the numbers,' " Milburn said. "Now, the government runs the numbers [the lottery]. They call it Pick 3."

When Aunt Beulah died in 2003 at 96 years of age, she told her nephew to make sure the gloves, and some photos of Louis and her late husband, went to the right place.

Politics in the ring

Louis and Schmeling's fight, held before the American known as the Brown Bomber would win the world heavyweight crown, served as a curtain-raiser to a much bigger event. In what was then his 28th fight as a pro, the still-unseasoned Louis lost by a knockout in the 12th round at Yankee Stadium to the German "great white hope."

Nazi propagandists had a field day.

Two years later, however, Louis granted a shot at the title to Schmeling and that battle took on epic cultural and political proportions.

Schmeling was heavily supported by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, which was hoping for some redemption after another African-American, black sprinter Jesse Owens, had stolen the show at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

The fight was considered so important in America that then President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited Louis to the White House, where he told him his country desperately needed a victory.

Louis delivered it in style, courtesy a first-round knockout of Schmeling.