American Success Story

by Roger Zotti

James Curl believes his book, the inspiring Jersey Joe Walcott: A Boxing Biography (McFarland), is one of the greatest achievements of his life. A newcomer to writing books, Jim asserts, “I decided I wanted to write about former heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott because he deserved to be written about. So I began writing and everything fell into place.”

Here’s what Jim hopes readers take away from his well documented sports biography, which is also part social history: First, “that despite one’s circumstances, you can achieve your dreams,” and second “that after all my research and talking with Jersey Joe’s family, I learned he was a truly great fighter and very decent human being.”

“Just think … of all [Jersey Joe] accomplished.”

Jersey Joe Walcott, born Arnold Raymond Cream (1914-94), recorded one of the most unforgettable upsets in boxing history. In chapter 14, “Winning the Title,” we learn on July 18, 1951, at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, in his fifth try to win the world heavyweight title Walcott, a 7-1 underdog, knocked out reigning heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, one of the sport’s most underappreciated titleholders.

Finally, after a career that began in 1930, the thirty-seven-year old Walcott was heavyweight champion of the world. It happened like this: As the bell sounded for round seven, Walcott was slightly ahead on the judges’ scorecards. In prose that sings with action, Jim writes that he avoided a quick left jab from Charles and “then countered with a perfectly timed left hook/uppercut to the right side of Ezzard’s chin.” Down went the champion! Somehow he “miraculously willed himself up. But his punch-rattled brain couldn’t control his body. He stumbled backward….Charles was counted out at 55 seconds into the seventh round.”

Jim points out that Jersey Joe “came from extreme poverty and went on to win the heavyweight title and after retiring became the first African-American to become sheriff of Camden County. In fact he was the first African-American to become sheriff in the entire state of New Jersey. Just think of how far he had come and all that he accomplished! It’s amazing!” He adds that Jersey Joe’s life “is a Cinderella story, if you can handle hearing that again. I talked with boxing historian Herb Goldman, who said that even more than heavyweight champion Jimmy Braddock, Jersey Joe is the true Cinderella Man.” (Braddock was the subject of Ron Howard’s 2005’s film “Cinderella Man.”)

Vincent Cream II, who wrote the book’s Foreword and is Jersey Joe’s eldest grandson, is impressed with Jim because “when I spoke with him my question was, ‘Why did you choose my grandfather to write about?’ His answer resonated with me when he said, ‘I felt your grandfather deserved to have a book written about him.’ For all the things my grandfather achieved, and for there not to have been a definitive work about him, was what inspired Jim.”

For Vincent, Jim’s book is definitive: “For me and members of my family, Jim put all the things my grandfather did into his book, and the blessing of it is I can take that book, hand it to my son and my grandson, if I’m blessed to have one someday, and say, ‘This is who you are. This is where you began.’”