Africans in America
Amadou M'barick Fall. Fall with his manager and other boxers. Left to right, Robert Diamant, a boxer; Louis Defremont, a fight promoter and Siki's French manager; Fall (Siki); and Gaston-Charles (Charley) Raymond, a French-born boxer who fought mostly in the United States in the 1930s and after his own career ended managed other boxers. (George Grantham Bain Collection/Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.)
The first African to win the world light heavyweight title in 1922, Amadou M'barick Fall (1897–1925) was nicknamed "Battling Siki". But before that, Fall lived an extraordinary life that saw him travel to Europe as a boy under unknown circumstances—Siki himself is said to have claimed that a German dancer had taken him to France at the age of eight. He was later apparently abandoned, and had to fend for himself while working odd jobs. By 1912, he had become a well-trained boxer, but shortly thereafter enlisted in the French army and was awarded the Croix de Guerre (the equivalent of a Medal of Honor). After the Great War, Siki won a number of fights before challenging Georges Carpentier for the light heavyweight crown in Paris. Siki's victory was so stunning that he soon found himself an international celebrity, at one point even starring as the lead role in a film called Dunkle Gassen (Dark Alleys). At the same time, he had to battle some of the ugliest stereotypes of black people that were common in the early 20th century. Despite being self-educated, a war hero, and a polyglot, Siki was often characterized as a savage, and was banned from fighting in numerous venues simply on this unfounded claim. He went on to a lackluster career in the United States, never getting the chance to regain the title. And then, to add to the tragedy, Siki was shot and killed in New York—a murder that remains unsolved. Though his career was on the decline by then, thousands attended his funeral, and Adam C. Powell delivered the eulogy. It would take another seventy years for Siki to be recognized again by the international community; in 1993, the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid honored Siki's quiet, determined efforts to rebut the racist stereotypes of his era.