LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- They stood and applauded Joe Louis today -- the celebrities, the friends, the thousands of fans who cheered the former heavyweight legend as the Rev. Jesse Jackson shouted from the center of a boxing ring, 'Let's hear it for the champ.'
'He is in the center of the ring taking on all challengers and has no peers,' Jackson said.
The civil rights leader delivered a hard-hitting eulogy in the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion from a pulpit positioned in the red, white and blue boxing ring behind the closed gold-colored casket.
Jackson criticized racial prejudice, tax harassment and the hard times experienced during Louis's career and repeated the phrase, 'from slaveship to championship.'
Singer Frank Sinatra closed his brief remarks with, 'God bless you Joe. The fight is over and you came out of the ring with dignity and decency.'
'And I don't know how the ref voted yet,' Sinatra said, 'but I lay you 100-1 he gets a unanimous decision.'
Sinatra said Louis set an example for men of all ages and all colors.
Singer Sammy Davis Jr. paid tribute to Louis in a song delivered from the pulpit, which said 'Here's to the winners, here's to the glory yet to come ... here's to heroes, those who move mountains ... here's to miracles, they make us see.'
Jackson said Louis was 'there when we needed him ... he was our Sampson, he was our David. Joe Louis was our messenger of hope. He faced the headwinds and won.
'Even to this moment, the government's conduct towards Joe is filled with tension and shame. Until the time of his death, he was not extended mercy. He tried to work, they tried to attach his wages for taxes. Thus, he was forced out of the labor market.
'I hope the generous offer of the president honors Arlington National Cemetery by giving it the privledge of receiving Joseph.'
Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev., and former heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, were among the other notables attending services for Louis. The fighter died at his Las Vegas home Sunday of a heart attack. He was 66.
The former champion will be buried Tuesday in Arlington National Cemetery. Louis served in the Army during World War II and fought exhibitions for servicemen.
President Reagan waived eligibility requirements to permit Louis to be buried at the cemetery, the 39th exception to the eligibility criteria in the cemetery honoring the nation's war heroes.
During the first four hours of public viewing Thursday, thousands of fans and friends passed by the open gold-colored casket of the 'Brown Bomber.'
A military honor guard stood watch as a steady stream of people walked up the steps into a boxing ring, where floral sprays surrounded the casket. More than 10,000 people had signed the guest register by the time viewing ended Thursday night, mortuary officials said.
Louis was dressed in a dark brown tuxedo with a folded American flag at his left shoulder. A red rose was in his hands.
During his boxing career, Louis compiled a record of 68 wins and three losses, knocked out 54 of his opponents and successfully defended his title 25 times in a reign that last from 1937 to 1950.
Active pall bearers were boxing promoter Don King, entertainer Frank Sinatra, heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, former champ Muhamad Ali, Caesars Palace President Brig. Gen. Harry Wald, former Caesars Palace president William Weinberger Sr., Ben Rogers and Abe Margolies.
Among the 38 honorary pall bearers were Bob Hope, Ken Norton, Billy Conn, Jersey Joe Walcott, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jack Dempsey and Max Schmeling.