Joe Louis

PUBLISHED THIS MONTH by Scribners, The Champion: Joe Louis, Black Hero in White America, is a book that started life as an undergraduate thesis at Yale. The author is Chris Mead of Bethesda, who graduated from Yale College in 1981 and Yale Law School in 1985. Joe Louis is a figure who seems to be growing in stature as the years pass. We've recently come across reminiscences of his role in Americans' lives in Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Russell Baker's Growing Up. Book Report called up Mead, who is now a clerk with Federal District Court Judge Joseph Young in Baltimore.

"The book's thesis," Mead told us, "is that Joe Louis was an early and important figure in the civil rights movement. I chart his public image from the time he broke in in 1935 to 1951when he retired. There's no doubt he had a lot to do with changing white attitudes about blacks. His bouts with Max Schmelling, when he was America's representative, and his charity fights during World War II when he became a symbol of national unity, led to a new consciousness about blacks. The comments of reporters at the end of his career were very different from the way he was treated at the beginning."

Mead had the editing help of his father, Bill Mead, associate editor of Washingtonian magazine in polishing the final manuscript. Dad also lent his son his own literary agent, Arnold Goodman of New York, who made the sale to Scribners. Now that's a sweet father. The Linda Hall Library

WE ARE ALL familiar with the names of the great endowed research libraries, such as the Huntington Library in California, the Newberry in Chicago, the Pierpont Morgan in New York and the Folger. But which private library has the biggest endwment? Why, it's the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, of course. Opened in 1946, it is dedicated to aiding research in science and technology. It has 600,000 volumes, over a million government documents and is noted for its collection of scientific and medical journals from Japan, China and Eastern Europe. The library has the income from a trust currently valued at more than $50 million, set up by Herbert F. Hall and his wife Linda. Herb was Hallmark Cards. And he cared enough to fund the very best. Bread and Caviar

WE PROMISED to debrief Mary D. Gubser of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the indefatigable 70-year-old author of America's Bread Book (Morrow) about her recent trip to Russia. Mary D. denies she was on CIA business, but we expected that. Here she is -- hold onto your hat:

"I am very happy to be back in the U.S.A. It was extremely hot in Moscow. For the first time in my life, I can say I had enough caviar. I stuffed myself with it. But the bread. . . oh, it's dreadful. . . they need me. There's this mass-produced white bread and a heavy sour rye. Not distinguished. We went to this restaurant called Rossiya overlooking Red Square. The waiter brought us a carafe of vodka and I mixed it with water. I thought the waiter would collapse. . . oh dear. I brought chewing gum, little bottles of perfume, eye makeup and lipsticks and gave them out as tips. They loved them.

"But the thing they liked best was pictures from our instant camera. We went to a really excellent restaurant called Stanislavsky's Bazaar. They had the most interesting bread I saw. It was a simple peasant white bread, and it has a rope hole on the end. They used to string them on poles in the country and let them dry. Well, we had champagne and caviar and these young women came in and asked us to take some instant pictures. Then we had to take pictures of everyone at all the surrounding tables, so they bought us more champagne.

"Oh, it was the craziest night we had since we met that drunken architect in Tbilsi on our last trip. Before we left, one of the young women reached in her bag and gave me a whole tin of caviar as a present. They are so generous. If it wasn't for their totalitarian government, we could be great friends with the Russians. But don't let me get philosopical. . . ."

We won't, Mary D. The Tulsa tornado, by the way, informs us that Morrow has just reissued her first book, Mary's Bread Basket, in its Quill paperback series. In the Margin

RANDOM HOUSE has signed Thomas Oliver, business columnist for the Atlanta Constitution, to do a book on the old Coke-new Coke brouhaha. The working title is The Real Coke: The Real Story. "Coke is a company and a product that transcends logic and fact," Oliver commented when we called. "When it tried to change the formula, the company didn't realize the degree to which it was in charge of a substantial piece of Americana." Take that, Pepsi. . . The next project of Roger Morris, who has written books on Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, is a two-volume study of Richard Nixon. The first volume, which takes Nixon to 1960, will appear in the fall of 1986 from Harper & Row.