Celebrating Al Jenkins

By Pete Ehrmann on October 24, 2017
Celebrating Al Jenkins
Al Jenkins lost a disputed decision to eventual champion Cassius Clay at Chicago Stadium.

The bright ring future in the ring predicted for the Milwaukee fighter often likened to Joe Louis never happened…

October 21 was Al Jenkins’ 81st birthday.

One of the top amateur boxers in Milwaukee ring history, Jenkins won the Wisconsin Golden Gloves heavyweight championship in 1959, 1960 and 1961, and in ‘61 he won the National Golden Gloves heavyweight championship.

At the 1960 National Golden Gloves Tournament at Chicago Stadium, Jenkins lost a disputed decision to eventual champion Cassius Clay after almost knocking him out in the final round of their semi-final match. One of the three judges voted for the Milwaukee boxer, who at the time had a mere handful of amateur bouts to more than a hundred for the Louisville boxer who four years hence would became heavyweight champion of the world and change his name to Muhammad Ali.

The bright ring future in the ring predicted for the Milwaukee fighter often likened to Joe Louis never happened because of Jenkins’ poor eyesight. “In the amateurs, you didn’t have to take an eye test,” he said. “In the pros, I couldn’t pass the physical.” 

Boxing, Jenkins said, “was the only thing I did well that wasn’t destructive.” In the mid-’60s he did two stretches in the state penitentiary in Waupun for armed robbery and took stock of his life. “I had lost my family,” he said. “That hurt, especially not being able to see my son, who was born in 1964. It just didn’t make sense to keep going back and forth to prison.”

The high school dropout earned his GED at Waupun, and upon his release in 1971 Jenkins enrolled at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and eventually received his Associate Liberal Arts degree.

Al Jenkins’ great comeback story was gilded in 1991 when he became a daily volunteer with the Milwaukee Social Development Commission’s “Senior Companions Program,” winning acclaim for providing aid and fellowship to elderly residents of the community.

At his birthday party last Saturday attended by friends and family from all over the USA there was a large cake shaped like a boxing glove, and the guest of honor was presented with an official proclamation from Mayor Tom Barrett designating it as “Al Jenkins Day” in Milwaukee.

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