Giant Boxing Arm of Joe Louis.

Mighty Fist of Joe Louis

Field review by the editors.

Detroit, Michigan

Aimed menacingly toward Canada, the giant bronze boxing arm of Joseph Louis Barrow (aka Joe Louis) hangs from a pyramid of poles in the middle of Detroit's busiest downtown intersection. The 24-foot-long arm -- as long as the pyramid is tall -- weighs four tons, and gives off the vibe of a medieval siege battering ram. It was sculpted by Robert Graham, who would go on to create the Big Green Head of Charlie Parker in Kansas City.

Giant Boxing Arm of Joe Louis.

Louis was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world (1937-1949) and a big hero in Detroit, where he'd moved when he was 12 and trained at the city's Brewster Recreation Center. His most famous fight was in 1938, when he defeated German Max Schmeling, and concurrently pummeled Hitler's theory of racial supremacy. Graham positioned the big arm -- which cost $350,000 -- to show that Louis fought for justice and freedom all over the world... including Canada.

When the sculpture had its dedication on October 16, 1986, not everyone was pleased. Officially titled "Monument to Joe Louis," people dismissed it as "The Fist." Some wondered why Joe Louis didn't merit an entire statue, like other famous people. Some muttered that the fist was too similar to a Black Power salute. Some said it should at least have a boxing glove.

Engraved into the chopped-off part of the arm is its time-weathered dedication. The arm was "a gift from Sports Illustrated" and, surprisingly, its creation was not inspired by the passing of Joe Louis (who'd died in 1981), but by the Detroit Institute of Arts' 100th birthday.

Despite the initial criticism, "The Fist" (now its generally accepted name) proved to be just as tough as the man it commemorated, and is now one of Detroit's most marketable civic symbols. Visitors like to stand on the monument's concrete base and pose like they're being clocked on the chin by Joe.

Mighty Fist of Joe Louis

Hart Plaza

Address:
E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, MI
Directions:
Downtown, in Hart Plaza. One block from the river and across from Ford Auditorium. E. Jefferson at Woodward Ave.
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

The Spirit of DetroitThe Spirit of Detroit, Detroit, MI - < 1 mi.
Abraham Lincoln Nose JobAbraham Lincoln Nose Job, Detroit, MI - < 1 mi.
Detroit's Point of OriginDetroit's Point of Origin, Detroit, MI - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Robert Wadlow Shoe and Wayward Lincolnabilia, Plymouth, MI - 22 mi.

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