THE JIMMY (BANG-BANG) WALKER STORY

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    Craig_Adams
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    Today March 23, 1932 James Zell “Jimmy” Walker, Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama to Emma Lou and James Zell Walker, Sr. Jimmy had a brother: Ivory Mitchell Walker and half brothers Grady William “Sonny” Owens, and Harvey Lee Black, Jr. A sister: Denise Walker and a half sister Gail V. Black.

    In 1936 Jimmy’s father died when he was 4 years old and the family moved to Vallejo, Calif. In 1940 when James was 8 years old, he was making $25.00 a week selling newspapers and picking fruit. Jimmy remembers: “Our mother taught us to be proud. That hard work is the foundation for good health and a good mind. We never went on welfare, we all worked.” In 1941 James was showing great athletic aptitude and by age 12, had won the California Junior Golden Gloves in his division. “I found I was quick and nimble and I worked hard at boxing” Jimmy said. In High School James won letters in all four sports: football, basketball, baseball and track.

    In 1949 Jimmy began as an amateur boxer. When most of his friends were drafted for the Korean War, he dropped out and enlisted into the U.S. Army as a truck driver, serving with the 25th Infantry Division in South Korea. Walker would send home as much money as he could to support his mother. The Army assigned him special services and he spent much of his military career in the ring. Jimmy became Far East Lightweight Champ, appearing on a “Meet The Champ” television show for 10 weeks and met governors, mayors, high society people, entertainers and famous fighters like Rocky Marciano.

    On February 17, 1951 James Z. Walker was “seriously wounded in action by a missile.” He was awarded five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart and was later returned to duty. On April 3, 1951 Corporal Walker was discharged from service and he returned to San Francisco to finished High School. In 1952 James made the Olympic team finals, losing the spot to Joe Reynolds of St. Louis.

    By July 1953 Jimmy Walker was dating Jeanette Adams. In 1954 Jimmy switched from amateur boxer to professional. On March 6, 1954 in a main event in Medford, Oregon, Jimmy Walker won the match against Jack Pusus. On May 5, 1954 Jimmy & Jeanette welcomed their first son James Zell Walker, Jr. or III in San Francisco. In 1955 James Zell Walker, Jr. married Jeanette Adams.

    On February 15, 1956 the Oakland Tribune newspaper mentions the name Jimmy (Bang Bang) Walker for the first time. His nickname came from his fast punching style and outstanding boxing prowess. Also in 1956 Jimmy & Jeanette welcomed their first daughter Debra Leartine Walker. (1974 Jefferson High School Rose Festival Princess).

    In 1958 Jimmy and family moved to Portland. Promoter Tommy Moyer said he could get Walker to be a main eventer, but Jimmy found himself fighting semi-mains. By May 1958 the Walker family were living at 9115 N. Woolsey Ave. In 1959 Jimmy & Jeanette welcomed their second daughter Ronnetta Marie “Ronee” Walker. (1976 Jefferson High School Rose Festival Princess).

    On October 27, 1959 Jimmy (Bang-Bang) Walker took on Mickey Gilmer in a preliminary Pro-Boxing match at the Expo building. By this time Jimmy was also writing a column in Ring Magazine called “Bangin’ with Bang Bang.” In 1960 James began attending classes at Modern Barber College to learn a trade. Still later he found longer-term employment as a longshoreman, one of the first African Americans to join the union.

    In 1961 Jimmy began working for the “Oregon Mirror” newspaper for a time. On April 18, 1961 Jimmy & Jeanette welcomed their third daughter Freda Michelle Walker. (1979 Jefferson High School Rose Festival Court).

    In January 1962 Jimmy (Bang-Bang) Walker founded and was Editor/Publisher of the weekly “Northwest Defender” newspaper with an investment of $15,000. The paper was outspoken on race relations editorials, to articles about schools in North and Northeast Portland to social events and even photos of his children.

    On November 10, 1962 at the Portland Armory, Jimmy (Bang-Bang) Walker most likely fought one of his last matches, having won 38 of 49 professional fights, 23 by knockouts and something like 169 amateur fights. Jimmy won the Northwest Lightweight Championship during his professional career. On October 18, 1963 Jimmy & Jeanette welcomed their son Zelton Edward “James” Walker. (Zelton would later legally changed his name to James).

    On January 14, 1964 James Walker announced he would be a candidate by petition for nomination for State Representative from the East Central District of Multnomah County. Jimmy would be a candidate many times in the future. Bang-Bang at this time was a member of these originations: Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, Billy Webb Elks Lodge No. 1050, The Urban League, Portland Friends of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Portland Branch of the NAACP, North Portland Business Men’s Association, New Hope Baptist Church.

    In December 1964 Jimmy began his Albina Children’s Christmas Parties which would become an annual tradition for decades. Bang Bang would dress up as Santa Claus, asking children if they’d been good and passing out Christmas stockings filled with treats. Much of the money came right out of Jimmy’s pocket for these events. Playing Santa was one of the things he most loved to do.

    On June 4, 1966 the first “Miss Tan Portland Beauty Pageant” was held at the Park Haviland Hotel. Jimmy had acquired the Portland franchise after the 1965 “Miss Tan America” national pageant. Walker said anyone could enter: “We wouldn’t discriminate against a white girl if she had a tan,” explained Bang Bang. There were no entry fees because some girls didn’t have the funds and many of the garments worn were paid for by Jimmy as well. In May 1967 Jimmy & Jeanette were divorced.

    By August 1967 Walker had taken over the “Northwest Clarion”, which had suspended publication, and renamed his newspaper the “Clarion Defender”, sometimes also called the Northwest Clarion Defender and the New Northwest Clarion Defender. It published every two weeks.

    On May 12, 1968 it was announced Jimmy was manufacturing and marketing an all-purpose liquid cleanser at Jimmy (Bang-Bang) Walker Enterprises: 1223 N.E. Alberta St. The formula was given to Walker by a retired biochemist who had read Walker’s words and wanted to do something to help the African American community be self-supporting. He gave Walker a formula for a household cleanser. Walker applied his image and name to the product, brought his children and others into the bottling and sales system, and distributed “Jimmy Bang Bang Knockout Cleanser” wholesale and retail. Kids sold it door-to-door at $1.00 a bottle and received 25c of the price as their commission.

    By May 1969 Jimmy “Bang-Bang” Walker was now Chairman of the “Miss Tan Portland Beauty Pageant.” On June 17, 1969 Jimmy was hospitalized with bruises. Police had ordered a crowd to disperse as they made an arrest, but Walker, who had been photographing the scene for the “Clarion Defender”, protested and showed his press credentials. “They started jabbing me all over my body with nightsticks,” Walker said. Police arrested him and confiscated his film. Several months later, a jury took 30 minutes to acquit Walker of disorderly conduct but he was never given back his film.

    On December 13, 1969 Jimmy organized the “Clarion Defender Christmas Parade” after Portland merchants discontinued the “Fairy Tale Parade.” There were about 40 units and 4 floats that began at Irving Park and ending in the Holladay Park area. On March 15, 1970 it was announced Jimmy was elected to the Albina Citizens Together, Board of Directors. Walker had also been a charter member of the Albina Lions Club. By January 1971 the Walker family was living at 1315 N.E. Sumner St.

    On March 8, 1971 KPAM-FM carried a recreation of the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight with Jimmy “Bang-Bang” Walker as the recreation announcer. Freda Walker remembers Bang-Bang wearing a tuxedo to watch professional boxing matches in the 1970’s on closed-circuit television at the Fox Theater: “He was elated,” she said. “It was big deal.”

    On August 22, 1971 it was mentioned that Jimmy “Bang-Bang” Walker was contest coordinator for the “Miss Black Washington Pageant.” By December 1973 Jimmy had founded & was President of “Knockout Industries” the Northwest largest Minority owned manufacturer. They made of course Jimmy Bang Bang Knockout Cleanser, but also: D. Lea R’Tine Organic Biodegradable Concentrated Laundry Powder; Freda Michelle’s Hand & Body Lotion Cosmetics; Ronnetta Marie’s Shampoos & Bath Oils; Zelton’s Hand Cleanser’s and 24 other industrial products.

    On March 23, 1974 Top 40 station KGAR added Soul music to its weekends with Jimmy “Bang-Bang” Walker becoming a deejay. KGAR weekend slogan: “The Soul of Portland.” By April 1974 the Walker family was living at 4403 N. Concord Ave. On April 14, 1975 Jimmy’s brother Grady William “Sonny” Owens died at age 32. He was Sales Manager for Knockout Industries and the Clarion Defender newspaper.

    On June 27, 1975 “The Jimmy (Bang-Bang) Walker Youth Foundation” (founded in 1969) sponsored an all-comers track & field meet at Jefferson High School at 4:00pm. Jimmy’s foundation also sponsored yearly job fairs. By August 1977 “The Jimmy Bang-Bang Walker Show” was back on the air but this time as a talk show on KKEY Sundays at 4:00pm.

    On March 27, 1982 about 100 friends gathered at the Coliseum Travelodge to “roast” Jimmy “Bang-Bang” Walker honoring him on his 50th birthday. (born on the 23rd). Betty Lou Overton called Walker a “good citizen” who “will never be rich because he just gives it away.” About 1995 Jimmy retired after 20-plus years as a longshoreman and member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. In 1998 Jimmy was 67 years old and had a stroke with subsequent complications.

    On October 4, 2005 Jimmy (Bang-Bang) Walker passed away at age 73 of natural causes in his North Portland home. On October 8, 2005 a service was held a 2:00pm in the Jefferson High School auditorium.

    “It’s a real loss to the African American community in terms of the commitment that he had to fostering our community, helping young men and women to take pride in and learn about their culture,” said Halim Rahsaan, a former amateur boxer.

    Tony Hopson, founder, President & Chief Executive officer of Self Enhancement Inc. said: “He was a real role model… at a time when a lot of folks of color in this city weren’t as eager to jump out there and try new things, he did the Miss Tan at a time when folks needed to feel good about themselves, and really weren’t in a position to compete in some of the other kinds of pageants. We looked at that as a real positive.”

    Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this biography more complete.

    References: The Oakland Tribune, The Oregon Journal, The Oregonian.

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