By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
The bronze statue of World Heavyweight Champion boxer Ezzard Charles of Cincinnati was unveiled for a large crowd in Ezzard Charles Park in Cincinnati’s West End on Saturday, Oct. 1. The statue rests near TQL Stadium in a new plaza in Ezzard Charles Park, which has been renamed from Laurel Park, near where Charles lived for many years before moving to the Avondale community.
At 13 feet, the new statue of Ezzard Charles stands larger than life.
Charles was the champion from 1949-51, but his impact on the sport and the West End is legendary. In 1975, he died at the age of 53 after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Charles, who grew up in Cincinnati, was known in the boxing world as the “Cincinnati Cobra” and, according to ESPN, was considered one of the world’s greatest fighters. He was inaugurated into the inaugural International Boxing Hall of Fame. He finished his career with 95 wins, 25 losses and one draw and passed away in 1975 after moving to Chicago, where he worked for that city’s recreation program.
Ezzard Charles II and Deborah Charles, Charles’ son and daughter, and other family members joined city officials – including mayor Aftab Pureval and vice mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney at the unveiling ceremony.
Artist John Hebenstreit created the statue, while the late Jaipal Singh of CHAATRIK Architecture & Urban Design designed the plaza. The park also includes more than 100 newly planted trees.
The effort was funded by Cincinnati Parks, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation, Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, the West End community and individual donors.
The unveiling was part of Ezz Fest, which celebrated Charles’ life and accomplishments and included a parade, family activities and a race along Charles old training route.
“I’m glad it is something that the children will have to look up to and help them aspire to their dreams,” said Ezzard Charles II. “He would be glad that they are remembering him and giving him some recognition.”
Charles was a man who transcended his times and station: A champion prize-fighter exalted as a renaissance man. Charles was a Jazz musician and spoke four languages.
“Ezzard Charles was such a kind person,” said Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, whose family shared back yards with the Charles family in Avondale. “This statue is 13-feet tall, larger than life, as was Ezzard Charles.”
And he was humble. At the age of 53 in 1975, Charles had said, “I’m just a square sort of fellow, but if I had to do it over, I would not change a thing.”
Andrew VanSickle, the emotional visionary behind the project, says he believes that spirit as well will be transcendent.
Van Sickle, came up with the idea for a statue of Charles 8 years ago after he met several West End youths on a corner and asked them if they knew who Charles was. After none of the youth responded, he looked at the park across the street and thought about having a statue of Charles placed there.
Charles son said his father was a “great fighter and a great man. He cared for people and gave himself to others. He loved everyone. He made me a responsible man and a minister of the Gospel, so I, too, could help others.
He thanked Cincinnatians for the statue in the park that young people in the West End could draw inspiration from.