How Boxer Joe Louis Became the Unlikely Savior of Cuba's Economy

joe louis
Briona Lamback
May 5, 2023

In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista’s regime in Cuba and closed down the casinos. This created significant problems for Cuba. Its $60 million tourism sector dried up.

Castro found his answer in an unlikely person: boxer Joe Louis.

Castro thought he could use Louis’ celebrity to entice Black Americans to vacation in Cuba - and Louis was down with the plan. Because of Jim Crow, it was difficult for middle-class Black people to travel within the U.S. and to resorts in the Caribbean.

The lucrative deal was designed to help promote Cuba in Black print media in exchange for a 15% commission from Cuban tourism. Louis assembled a commission of Black newspaper editors and leaders, then they began promotion, praising Cuba as a racially tolerant place.

The U.S. was not happy about it.

As the U.S.-Cuba relationship crumbled, white media ran stories discrediting Louis’ commission and suggested that Black people would take up arms against the U.S. Feeling pressured, Louis ended the commission.

Cuba’s later tourism picked up when they invited Canadians and Europeans to the country. Soon after, Cuba promoted itself as a Latin/white country, overlooking Afro-Cubans. The lesson? When it comes to our freedom, WE are the best suited to lead and vet those who claim to be our allies.

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