Sidney “Beau Jack” Walker was one of the greatest lightweight boxers of the 1940s and 1950s. Noted for his swarming style and high punch volume, the 5-foot-6-inch, 133-pound Jack boxed a record twenty-one main events at Madison Square Garden in New York and twice held the New York Boxing Commission world lightweight title.
Born April 1, 1921, in Waynesboro, Sidney Walker was reared in Augusta by his grandmother, Evie Mixom, who nicknamed him “Beau Jack.” As a youth, he shined shoes at the corner of Ninth and Broad streets. Needing additional income, he began fighting battle royals at age fifteen. These contests, financed by wealthy whites for their own entertainment, pitted five to ten Black men against one another in a ring. The last fighter standing received prize money. Jack won repeatedly despite his small stature. After winning a battle royal at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, Jack began shining shoes there. Members of the club, including the legendary golfer Bobby Jones, befriended him and provided funds for his formal boxing training.
Jack entered the professional ranks in 1940, quickly amassing an impressive win-loss record. On December 18, 1942, before a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden, he captured the lightweight title with a third-round knockout of Tippy Larkin. In May 1943 Jack lost the championship to Bob Montgomery via a fifteen-round decision. He reclaimed the belt in a rematch, only to lose it again to Montgomery in March 1944.
Ultimately, Jack would headline twenty-one bouts at the Garden. The most famous of these was the August 1944 “War Bonds Fight” against Montgomery. Staged to raise money for the World War II effort, Jack and Montgomery—both newly inducted U.S. Army privates—refused purses for the fight. Jack won the match, which generated record sales, with tickets made available only to those who purchased war bonds.
In July 1948 Jack fought for the title once more, losing to champion Ike Williams on a sixth-round knockout. The bout marked the beginning of a bitter rivalry between the two lightweights, who faced off three more times. His skills eroding, Jack lost the first match, managed only a draw in the second, and lost by a technical knockout in the third. His final match with Williams, held August 12, 1955, in Augusta, was also the last of Jack’s career. The bout was Jack’s 113th or 118th, depending on the source, and he is credited with as many as 88 victories.
After retirement Jack operated a drive-in barbecue stand near Augusta, tended a small farm, and refereed wrestling matches in South Carolina. He later moved to Miami, Florida. His ring earnings depleted, Jack returned to shining shoes, operating a shoeshine concession at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel. He also tutored boxers at the Fifth Street Gym. Despite his poverty, he maintained that he deserved no pity: “I’ve been to the top of the mountain. I was champion of the world. I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’m happy doing what I’m doing.”
Jack died in Miami on February 9, 2000, of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, and he is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.