Civilization a Bullet-Barbed Joke, Siki Found; Burial Today

Westbrook Pegler

New York Daily News/December 21, 1925

Battling Siki, who tried hard to understand civilization but never quite got the idea, will be trundled out over the roads to Long Island today and buried in the civilized way without a single thump of the tom-tom. A negro minister will commend him to the mercy of the Christian God and negroes will shoulder the casket from the tail-board of the motor hearse at the brink of the hole, but even so there will be nobody there who really understood Siki because the difference was no mere matter of complexion.

Levy His Best Friend.

In fact, the one person who knew Battling Siki best and loved him as a man loves a friendly but mischievous pet, was a white man, Bob Levy, his fight manager. Siki called him Papa Bob and often assaulted him with moist kisses in the same conciliatory way that a chicken-killing Airedale with feathers in its whiskers might slap its master on the cheek with eight inches of sopping tongue.

Siki had heard a lot about the virtues of civilization in a dozen years of exposure to its decorous influence, but in the last minute of his life, when he fell in a dirty gutter in Hell’s Kitchen, where the lights of Broadway throw deep shadows and churches face speakeasies across the street, civilization must have been a nuzzle and a josh to him.

As Siki stumbled over the curb and his dented plug hat bounced away he may have giggled at the irony of the matter, for he had come all the way from the jungle to the haunts of civilization and chivalry to be shot in the back. He couldn’t have received a worse deal back home, where they make no great boast of their civilization.

Siki was one who could giggle with his last gasp, too. He laughed right in Paul Berlenbach’s face throughout their fight in the old Garden and the harder Paul slugged him the more he seemed to enjoy the joke. It wasn’t that laborious, sneering laugh that a suffering fighter uses to pretend that he can’t be hurt.

When Siki laughed it wasn’t a mere matter of puckering his face. His mouth would gape open till it looked like a satchel with a red lining and you’d find yourself laughing with him.

Civilization? Har! Har!

 As Siki got the idea, civilization was something that was supposed to make men do things they didn’t want to do and tried to curtail their natural enjoyment of life. Civilization was a good thing in theory, but it didn’t work and Siki saw proof that it didn’t work.

For one thing, under civilization, if a man stole your woman, or your ox, or your land you were not allowed to go over to that man’s house and razor his head off in person. You were supposed to call a cop and maybe, after a long time, the man would be locked up in a cage for a term of months or years. However, it was against the rules of civilization to kill people.

And then civilization fell out with itself and Siki was given a gun with a knife on the end of it and invited to kill every one he saw wearing a certain kind of uniform.

As to Liquor—Bah!

Under civilization a man was allowed just one wife at a time and by the strict rule he was supposed to be true to her.

But Siki rattled around Paris enough to learn that civilization was, in civilized language, the bunk in this respect.

Siki came to the United States and they told him civilization had made a law whereby it was wrong to drink liquor. Siki had heard that civilization laid considerable store by its laws. By orderly obedience to the law did the civilized man show his superiority over the wild man.

And then Siki toured half of the United States and found civilized men everywhere, both white and black, who would sell him liquor and get him stewed contrary to the statutes. He was more often drunk than sober in a civilized land where the law plainly said there shouldn’t be any liquor.

Siki went to night clubs and to the weird squealing of the wood winds and the muffled thump of tom-toms, the music of civilization, and he saw half-naked black-and-tans wiggling and squirming in the dances of an enlightened tribe.

He fought in the ring and when blood showed the civilized crowds came up from their chairs roaring.

So from what he saw of it Siki frankly didn’t get the plot of this business called civilization. The whole thing was too much for the simple mind of a primitive African who got a late start at the racket.


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