Legendary Jersey boxer Joe Walcott was an unlikely champion who carved his way into the history books and captured the hearts of adoring Camden fans as an older fighter and statesman.
Now, an 8-foot bronze statue, in the works for a decade, will be unveiled on the Camden waterfront on Saturday to immortalize the boxer the town has claimed to be his own. The sculpture will represent the famous boxer in a chiseled position, his gloves raised and his arms rolled up.
“I wanted to create something that people are going to linger on for a while and get the spirit of the man,” South Jersey boxing sculptor Carl LeVotch said Friday. âHe was larger than life. “
In 1947, Walcott fought Joe Louis in a much anticipated heavyweight title fight at Madison Square Garden. He knocked down Louis twice. Many thought Walcott won, but the judges declared Louis the winner in a 15-round decision. Four years later, at age 37, Walcott became the oldest man to win a heavyweight championship fight, beating Ezzard Charles. His record was not broken until 1994 when George Foreman won the title at age 45.
READ MORE: Statue slated for Camden waterfront in honor of Jersey boxer Joe Walcott: “He wasn’t just a fighter; He was a great man ‘
Teams installed the statue this week in Wiggins Park, which offers picturesque views of the Philadelphia skyline. But it will be wrapped in a plywood box until unveiled. Banners with Walcott’s photo have been erected along the walkway, and a parade through Camden will pass through the old Parkside area of ââWalcott. Former champions Larry Holmes and Bernard Hopkins are expected.
Planners are hoping the statue will become a tourist attraction like the Rocky Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But Camden’s, they say, will stand out as it honors a real-life legend who has never forgotten his humble roots.
The statue will be a fitting tribute to Walcott’s fighting spirit and perseverance, said his eldest grandson Vincent Cream, 61, of Pennsauken. It will include a biography and a bronze replica of his championship belt.
âThis is going to be a centerpiece. They’re all going to come here and take pictures, âsaid Cream, who led the project. He promised his grandfather, who died in 1994, that he would be remembered.
The statue, atop a 5 foot pedestal, includes a quote that guided Walcott throughout his childhood, something he heard his father say: “Let me tell you one thing, if my son on occasion, he will become the champion. ” Walcott never forgot this and often shared it with his own children and grandchildren, Cream said.
Son of immigrants from Barbados, Arnold Raymond Cream grew up in Merchantville. Using Walcott’s name, he began boxing professionally at the age of 16 in 1930 to help his mother and 10 siblings after his father’s death. His family moved to Parkside in 1947. He retired at 39 with 51 wins, 18 losses and two draws.
After leaving the ring, Walcott starred in television shows and films, became Camden County’s first black sheriff, and headed the New Jersey State Athletic Commission. His wife, Riletta T. Cream, was a beloved educator and outspoken county owner.
“Jersey Joe’s legacy in the boxing ring speaks for itself and his record of public service is admirable,” Camden County Commissioner Louis Cappelli said in a statement. âWe are proud to honor this legend of his hometown with a permanent statue in his hometown Camden.â
After months of work, a big decision for planners was whether the statue should face Philadelphia or Camden, Cream said. Camden won.
âThe sun will rise on her face every day and set on her back,â Cream said.
It will be the county’s first publicly displayed monument honoring an African American. A statue of Matthew Henson, a black explorer believed to have been the first man to reach the North Pole in 1909, can be found at the Camden Shipyard Museum in the city’s Waterfront South district.
Cream said his family became very motivated to secure a statue for Walcott after visiting a statue in honor of Rocky Marciano in Brockton, Mass. – the man who won Walcott’s heavyweight title in 1952 – but it took years to complete the tribute.
Camden County has allocated $ 185,000 for the statue. The Camden County Historical Society is trying to raise around $ 120,000 to cover some of the costs.
âI did my best,â sculptor LeVotch said. “Sounds pretty much what I thought.”
The dedication will be somewhat bittersweet for the family, who mourn the death earlier this month of Walcott’s last surviving brother, Barbara Gray. Cream remembered his grandfather as being kind, humble, and always welcoming when approached by fans.
âHe wasn’t just my grandfather. He was my friend, âCream said.
READ MORE: Jersey Joe was Camden’s ‘Rocky’. A waterfront statue in his honor takes shape.
The parade will begin at noon on Saturday at the Pub, 7600 Kaighn Ave., Pennsauken, and conclude at Wiggins Park, 2 Riverside Dr., Camden, where the statue will be unveiled at 1 p.m., followed by a concert and celebration. . For more information, visit www.camdencounty.com/jerseyjoe.