John Carlos & Tommie Smith
|Power to the people|
No true radicals are ever fully appreciated in the moment of their acts. They are generally vilified and their actions are labelled ‘weak’, ‘ill-advised’ and ‘ineffectual’. It is only time that leads to a heightened sense of the importance of their actions.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith are not important because of who they are. The truth is that before the demonstration at the 1968 Olympics, they were not great men. After that event, they would become household names.
Their raised fist ‘Black Power’ salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games became known as one of the most public and overtly political statements at any sporting events. Tommie Smith had won the 200 metre dash, Australian Peter Norman (who quietly supported their protest) came second and John Carlos finished in third. Tommie and John wore black socks with no shoes to represent black poverty, Tommie wore a black scarf to represent black pride and all the three of them wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges.
All three of these men were ostracized and vilified after their protest. The idea of mixing sports with politics was said to be ‘distasteful’ and against the ideals of sports. It is a silly argument of course. Sports is inherently political because every action taken within a political world is political by nature. Neither Smith nor Carlos got any accolades in the immediate aftermath. That would take time, but they had the courage of their conviction and the certainty that they were correct in their protest. Over time, they would become known as some of the more unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement and they would become household names. Their protest would gain the respect and recognition it should have had all those years ago. The image of them with their fists in the air was voted one of the 20 most influential images in history.
Some of the history behind their protest is explained below:
“The media—and school curricula—fail to address the context that produced Smith and Carlos’ famous gesture of resistance: It was the product of what was called “The Revolt of the Black Athlete.” Amateur black athletes formed OPHR, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, to organize an African American boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games. OPHR, its lead organizer, Dr. Harry Edwards, and its primary athletic spokespeople, Smith and the 400-meter sprinter Lee Evans, were deeply influenced by the black freedom struggle. Their goal was nothing less than to expose how the United States used black athletes to project a lie about race relations both at home and internationally.”
The rest can be seen here
In addition, John Carlos recently expounded on the reasons behind their protests.
“My premise for going to the games was to make a statement. I wanted to represent the people from where I came from. It was the first time the Olympic Games was televised worldwide. The first time the Olympic Games was televised in Technicolor. The first time that anyone even cared to step up and make a public statement about humanity.”
I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.