With his gloves up and arms curled, Jersey Joe Walcott will one day watch over Camden’s waterfront. A statue honoring the famed boxer, sheriff, and city legend is on its way to being completed, and county officials plan to install it in Wiggins Waterfront Park by fall 2021.
Though in the works for years, the project began in earnest last September, when South Jersey sculptor Carl LeVotch was commissioned to create the eight-foot bronze statue. It will be the county’s first publicly displayed monument to an African American. (A statue of Matthew Henson, a Black explorer believed to be the first man to reach the North Pole in 1909, stands at the Camden Shipyard Museum in the city’s Waterfront South section.)
Local leaders hope Walcott’s likeness will become an attraction like Philadelphia’s Rocky statue, albeit one that will offer opportunities to learn about a real fighter and one of the city’s most enduring legacies.
“Both in his athletic career and as a public servant, he spent his life breaking barriers and redefining success,” Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young said.
The son of immigrants from Barbados, Arnold R. Cream grew up in Merchantville. Using the Walcott name, he took up boxing to help support his family after the death of his father. In 1947 he fought Joe Louis in a heavyweight title fight in Madison Square Garden, and four years later became the oldest man to win a heavyweight championship fight at age 37.
But in Camden, he’s as well known for what came after he left the ring. He acted in TV shows and movies, and became the first African American sheriff of Camden County. His wife, Riletta T. Cream, was a beloved educator and county freeholder. Together, they were passionate community leaders who devoted themselves to Camden.
“We do tend to think about his legacy as an athlete, but this is about paying tribute to someone who really paid back to his community,” county spokesperson Dan Keashen said.