Remembering Tommie Smith and John Carlos

On October 16th, 1968, two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fist in a black power salute during the playing of the national anthem at the Olympics. The two had just placed medal times in the 200 meter dash during the Mexico City games. Smith’s record setting sprint brought him gold and Carlos took bronze. As the National Anthem began playing, the pair lowered their heads and raised their fists in what would become an iconic image of the black struggle for equality. As members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, the athletes also were shoeless to protest black poverty and wore beads to highlight the crime of lynching. For their symbolic protest, Smith and Carlos were promptly banned from the games and expelled from the Olympic Village. The corporate press back in the U.S. had a field day ostracizing the two for their supposed lack of respect. Both Smith and Carlos faced hard times and death threats when they returned home from the games, but the image of resistance they staged lives on, not in infamy, but in annuls of subversive history.

The protest and sacrifice by Smith and Carlos is an instructive example of the courage needed today to deliver on the promise of a “more perfect union.”  We honor and salute Tommie Smith and John Carlos-thou more than heroes- for their heroic action in the service of a better America


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