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Interview with Lenard Reed on the Champ - Pranksters and Passing

Leonard Reed was instrumental in getting Joe Louis into the PGA and for enjoying many games of golf as well as enduring many pranks inaugurated by “The Champ.”
Unknown author, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Leonard Reed was instrumental in getting Joe Louis into the PGA and for enjoying many games of golf as well as enduring many pranks inaugurated by “The Champ.”

Mike Strong with an interview of Leonard Reed, about a time when it was illegal for blacks and whites to be in the same taxi. Reed’s friend, black heavyweight champ Joe Louis used this fact to play a joke on Reed in New Orleans. This oral history is told by Leonard Reed and recorded in person by Nicole English and me.

Mike Strong with an interview of Leonard Reed, about a time when it was illegal for blacks and whites to be in the same taxi. Reed’s friend, black heavyweight champ Joe Louis used this fact to play a joke on Reed in New Orleans. This oral history is told by Leonard Reed and recorded in person by Nicole English and me.

[Barbara] You have to tell them the story about Joe Louis and the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.

[Leonard] Oh, we have, this is 19 uh, I guess ’49, 1948, 49, we'd just come back from Europe, and I had booked Joe into, uh New Orleans in Louisiana, doing an exhibition.

[listener in room] Joe Louis?

[Leonard] Joe Louis. Meanwhile he (Joe Louis) said, "See if you can't get us on the golf course.” They didn't allow no colored people playing on the golf course, so I called ...

and sure enough, the golf-course said, "Oh, the Champ? Oh Yes, bring him down. By all means.” He said, "I'll have one of the teachers and myself.” This is one of the vice presidents. So anxious to talk to Joe Louis, you know.

[Leonard] So, we went down by Eastern Airlines. And we got off at 9:30 a.m. Now we're supposed to tee off at 11 o'clock. That's a time we'd set up because we'd get there at 9:30 a.m. So we jump into the limousine, sat there 15 minutes, 10, 15 minutes. Seems like an hour. So, Joe says, "What the hell they doin'? Let's get out of here. I want to get to the golf course. Hit some balls, you know.” So, we see these four guys standing up

with the chevrons on, and all that. He said I was to go up and ask them. I said, "Excuse me gentlemen ..."

[Other person] He said, "Excuse me, are you the gentleman who is with Mr. Louis?"

[Leonard] I said, "Yes I am. Mr. Louis is down there. You know, he's the Champ.”

[Other person] He said, "Well, we're trying to figure out what to tell him."

[Leonard] I said, "What do you mean, what to tell him?"

[Other person] "Well, we can't ride any colored people on the bus"

[Leonard] I said, "No PROBLEM. I'm going to tell him."

[Leonard] I said, "Joe, they don't want no niggers [sic] on the bus. Get off."

[Joe Louis] So, he (Joe Louis) said, "Well, why in the hell didn't they say that."

[Leonard] So we go to get in the yellow cab. Joe pushes me in the yellow cab. The cab driver says, "I can't take the champ." I said, "Why?” He said, "We can't ride colored and white together but there is a cab on the other side that will take you if you go over there with him."

[Leonard] And Joes says, "White Boy, lead the way over to the other cab." So, we get to the (other) cab. Joe goes to get in the cab. This black guy turns around and says, "I can't take you with the champ." So (Joe) says, "White boy" -- that's what he said, "White boy, go get the other cab."

[Leonard] So, I said to the cab driver who is apologizing to me all the way down while driving him to the motel. They didn't have a hotel for black people in New Orleans then.

So, I walked in as always; I walked to the desk. I signed, "Joe Louis and Leonard Reed"

She looked at me. She said, "Are you Mr. Reed?" I said, "Yes, mam."

[Desk Clerk] "Well, you see that sign? You can't stay here."

[Leonard] So, by this time it's 10 o'clock, you know. Now past 10. We've got to get to the golf course. So, she said, "Don't worry about it. I'll find somewhere." The guy said, "Who's going to take us?” So, Joe said, "Who's going to take us?"

She said, "My husband is going to take you down there."

[Leonard] Her husband said, "Sir, would you ride in the back and let the champ ride up in the front?” I just thought maybe he wanted to sit Joe in the front. But I'm in back. So, Joe says, "WHITE BOY, finally got you in the back of the bus, didn't we?"

[Leonard] So, we go on to the golf course. And we meet very nice guys. And we play 9 holes. Just a 9-hole exhibition. So, he said, "Leonard, where you staying?" I said, "I don't have a place to stay. He (golf buddy) says, "Well don't worry about it, I'll call the Roosevelt Hotel." So, he called the Roosevelt Hotel and made arrangements for me.

[Leonard] Joe said, "I'll pick you up at 7 o'clock” for an exhibition (fight). He's only going to fight 2 rounds. So, I went in there (hotel room), showered. About 6 o'clock, 7 o'clock,

knock on the door [knock][knock] Yes? "Bell Boy" I said, "Yeah?" I didn't send for no bellboy. So, I said, "Can I help you?" He said, "Mr. Reed, are you colored?" I said, "What the hell makes you think I'm COLORED?!!"

[Leonard] I got very indignant; you know? I'm in New Orleans, Louisiana

(the bellboy) said, "Well, there's a lady down there, a colored lady in the lobby with two kids. She says that she's your wife. Your kids are there, and they are COLORED, Mr. Reed. If you are passin' Mr. Reed, I think that you had better come out of here now..."

I'll help you out here."

[Leonard] So, he takes me out the work elevator, freight elevator, takes me around, and I got a bag in my hand, and clothes and I'm coming down the alley and Joe Louis settin' over there with the guy that drove us. He’s laughing his ass off. He had paid the woman $50 dollars and set it up with the clerk, with the hotel and everybody. Joe said, "I'm gonna have some fun out of him!" But I was scared. Don't think that I wasn't! Boy, they was laughing like hell.

He (Joe Louis) was a real jokester.

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