|The Joe Louis "Black Fist" statue in Detroit: the perfect symbol and monument for Black-Run America (BRA)|
"I know money is tight, but you would think the city could have afforded a whole statue," says a bewildered Barbara Johnson.
"It's terrible. I don't see the symbolism in it at all," echoes Renee Leblanc.
Complaints like those are already pouring in here over a stark, abstract memorial to Joe Louis, the late heavyweight champion, which is to be officially unveiled today.
Already dubbed the "fist" by disgruntled downtown office workers, it is just that--a 24-foot, 8,000-pound clenched black fist and forearm, horizontally suspended in midair beneath a pyramidical steel A-frame in the middle of downtown Detroit's busiest intersection.
Exudes Brutal Force
Produced by acclaimed sculptor Robert Graham, who stirred up Los Angeles in 1984 with his sculptures of headless torsos for the Olympics, it seems to jut through the cityscape with the same kind of brutal force Louis used to knock out Max Schmeling.
In a city that conjures up images of vacant buildings, unemployment lines and gray skies, the fist also seems to accentuate the toughness of Detroit's past and present.
But for many in Detroit, it isn't enough. Joe Louis, who grew up here and held the heavyweight boxing crown longer than anyone in history, was perhaps Detroit's greatest hero; the city's largest and most modern civic arena already bears his name.
Both before and after his death in 1981, black Americans have lionized Louis for being among the first major black figures to smash through racial barriers in the pre-World War II era.
Local Reaction Swift
So some here were surprised and a little disappointed that the city wasn't getting a more traditional Louis monument. And even though the bronze sculpture, just installed last week, was visible for only one day before it was covered with a tent in preparation for its official unveiling, local reaction has been swift and generally negative.
"I can't say anything negative about Joe Louis, but I think most of us would rather have a whole statue," says one city employee.
Other downtown workers say they think that the work looked too much like a symbol for militant black power and worried about the impact that kind of symbolism might have in a city still deeply divided along racial lines.
"It is billed as a tribute to Joe Louis, but it looks like a black power fist," notes one. "If it is a monument to Joe Louis, why isn't there a boxing glove on it?"
The fist was erected in 1986 as a gift from Sports Illustrated to celebrate the centennial of the Detroit Institute of Arts. At the time, it evoked a variety of reactions.
"It almost obviously says black power," said Richard Marback, an associate professor of English at Wayne State University who has written about the fist. "People said that is the appropriate way to honor Joe Louis. Here is a black man fighting against racial oppression: He knocked out Max Schmeling, the Nazi boxer."
Two suburban Detroit men pleaded guilty Thursday to defacing a downtown monument honoring boxing great Joe Louis.
Brett Cashman, 45, and John T. Price, 27, could face up to five years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for May 14.
But the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office expected Circuit Judge James Chylinski to approve its recommendation that the men serve 30 days in jail and the remainder of their sentence on probation, and also pay $1,000 in restitution before sentencing, spokeswoman Maria Miller said.
Cashman and Price were charged with malicious destruction of property after using mops to swab white paint on the 8,000-pound sculpture depicting the arm and fist of Louis, who grew up in Detroit.
With credit for three days spent in jail after their Feb. 23 arrest and 21 days served on house arrest, the two residents of Washtenaw County's Superior Township actually will spend just six days behind bars, said Cashman's attorney, Marc Beginin of Birmingham.
"He's satisfied with (the sentence) — otherwise he wouldn't have agreed to it," Beginin said of Cashman. "They did what they did, and they're willing to take responsibility for it."
Price's attorney, David Rosenberg, did not return a telephone message left Thursday afternoon at his Southfield office.
The monument is a tribute to Louis and considered by many a symbol of black power and triumph over injustice. But Cashman said earlier that he and Price targeted the fist because of its "violent imagery" and because it was an inappropriate symbol of a city bedeviled by crime, guns and drugs.
Police found photos at the base of the statue of two white police officers shot to death during a Feb. 16 traffic stop. Their suspected killer is black.
"This regrettable event could be used to divide the community," Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. "We should learn from this incident and use it as another step that will bring the community together."
Cashman and Price have insisted that their action was not racially motivated.
Louis, who lived from 1914 to 1981, moved to Detroit with his family when he was a boy and is a hero in the city. The Red Wings play in a downtown arena named for him, and the sculpture, called Monument to Joe Louis but known to residents as simply "the fist," enjoys a prominent location along Jefferson Avenue.
Detroit's Brown Bomber shattered the myth of racial supremacy with one decisive fight. After suffering a humiliating loss to the German fighter Max Schmeling in 1936, Louis trained tirelessly for a rematch two years later, and defeated the Nazi poster boy in just two minutes and four seconds.
The sculpture that honors him is a 24-foot-long, defiant right-handed punch, suspended above Jefferson Avenue.
Former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young once said that Joe Louis stood for everything that was good about Detroit. I can't help but agree. Joe Louis is the symbol of all that I love about this city.
Lots of people hate this sculpture, saying it glorifies violence. The statue was installed in the late 1980s, back when Detroit was known as the nation's murder capital, and the damage from the '67 riots still felt fresh.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania anyone?