Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts




Dr. Robert K. Barney


This study examines the effect that the careers of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali had on civil rights and race relations in the United States between 1934 and 1975 from the perspective of the black community, as interpreted through a qualitative analysis of the content provided by the Chicago Defender’s editorial posture and its black readership. Primary source material was divided into four categories – general news, general editorials, sports editorials, and reader contribution – and analyzed for each boxer’s career. The results of this primary source analysis were significant in that they contradict many current beliefs. The findings indicate that Joe Louis’ career had a positive effect on race relations and civil rights. As well, the findings indicate that Muhammad Ali’s career had a neutral effect on race relations and civil rights, presenting a balance between positive and negative effects.