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The Legacy of the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute

Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a daring and controversial statement at the 1968 Olympics. Their careers crumbled afterwards, but their legacy lives on.

After making this statement these men became pariahs

Raised fists, heads bowed, with 400 million viewers watching. Tommie Smith and John Carlos took this historic stand at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. A raised fist is a symbol of the civil rights struggle in the U.S. It's also widely known as the Black Power salute. Smith and Carlos, who had won gold and bronze, respectively, agreed to use their medal wins as an opportunity to highlight the social issues roiling the United States at the time.

The gesture as the "The Star-Spangled Banner" played was a political demand in a tense situation. Only a few months had gone by since the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the U.S. was marked by race riots that left around 50 people dead. The Cold War was ongoing, and public opinion was divided over the Vietnam War. African Americans like Smith and Carlos were frustrated by what they saw as the passive nature of the Civil Rights movement. They sought out active forms of protests and advocated for racial pride, black nationalism and dramatic action rather than incremental change. After making this statement, Smith and Carlos became pariahs. Banned for life from the Olympics, they lost their jobs and received death threats.

Look in the photo again and you’ll see another man as well: silver medalist Peter Norman, a white Australian runner. Norman didn’t raise his fist that day, but he stood with Smith and Carlos. The winner of the silver medal for the 200 meters at the same event, Australian athlete Peter Norman, also wore a badge supporting the Olympic Project for Human Rights. That cost Norman his career, too. When he died in 2006, Smith and Carlos traveled to Australia to pay him respects at his funeral and be his pallbearers. 50 years later, the statement made by Smith and Carlos remains an example of commitment for generations of athletes.

Brut.

11/06/2019 12:57 PM

16 comments

  • Nancy W.
    10/18/2020 00:14

    Thank you HEROS !

  • Ramsey R.
    10/17/2020 20:48

    Inspiration should be always be forwarded for the next generation to fight against systematic racism.

  • Lisa G.
    10/17/2020 19:16

    Bet I know which side of history the Trump supporters would've been on...or actually were on. "How disrespectful to the flag" "That isn't the place to protest " "Just shut up and play" "they are the real racists"...blah blah blah. 🙄 Nothing has changed much...

  • Karen R.
    10/17/2020 15:04

    52 years ago and still the best goes on. Hmmmmmmmm

  • James B.
    10/17/2020 14:09

    ✊🏾

  • Pablo S.
    10/17/2020 07:00

    Never forget Peter Norman ✊

  • Anne S.
    10/17/2020 03:16

    I remember it so well!

  • Peter D.
    10/17/2020 02:40

    Three courageous men , thank you

  • Mary O.
    10/16/2020 21:53

    I remember watching this on TV at the time

  • Joann P.
    10/16/2020 20:59

    Thank you so much my brother love for being real

  • David C.
    10/16/2020 20:21

    Yet still?

  • Jean W.
    10/16/2020 17:56

    Heroes

  • Liz K.
    10/16/2020 17:13

    Many folks don't realize that the white guy on the podium was also supporting these two men . His name was Peter Norman and was an Australian sprinter. On his left breast he wore a small badge that read: “Olympic Project for Human Rights” – an organization set up a year previously opposed to racism in sport. But while Smith and Carlos are now feted as human rights pioneers, the badge was enough to effectively end Norman’s career. He returned home to Australia a pariah, suffering unofficial sanction and ridicule as the Black Power salute’s forgotten man. He never ran in the Olympics again. Smith and Carlos had already decided to make a statement on the podium. They were to wear black gloves. But Carlos left his at the Olympic village. It was Norman who suggested they should wear one each on alternate hands. Yet Norman had no means of making a protest of his own. So he asked a member of the U.S. rowing team for his “Olympic Project for Human Rights” badge, so that he could show solidarity. “He came up to me and said, ‘Have you got one of those buttons, mate,’ ” said U.S. rower Paul Hoffman. “If a white Australian is going to ask me for an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, then by God he would have one. I only had one, which was mine, so I took it off and gave it to him.” The three men walked towards their destiny. The medals were handed out before the three turned towards the flags and the start of the Star Spangled Banner. “I couldn’t see what was happening,” Norman said of that moment. “I had known they had gone through with their plans when a voice in the crowd sang the American anthem but then faded to nothing. The stadium went quiet.” The fallout was immediate for Smith and Carlos, who were sent home in disgrace. Norman was never given the chance to go a step closer. He was never picked to run in the Olympics again. Peter Norman died of a heart attack on October 9, 2006. At the funeral both Smith and Carlos gave the eulogy, where they announced that the U.S. Track and Field association had declared the day of his death to be “Peter Norman Day” – the first time in the organization’s history that such an honor had been bestowed on a foreign athlete. Both men helped carry his coffin before it was lowered into the ground. For them, Norman was a hero – “A lone soldier,” according to Carlos – for his small but determined stand against racism. “He paid the price. This was Peter Norman’s stand for human rights, not Peter Norman helping Tommie Smith and John Carlos out,” Smith told CNN. The three had remained friends ever since their chance meeting on that podium in Mexico City 44 years ago. “He just happened to be a white guy, an Australian white guy, between two black guys in the victory stand believing in the same thing.” So never forget that these 2 men raised their fists in a show of power but the 3rd man on that podium stood up for them as well.

  • Frank M.
    10/16/2020 16:46

    Leaders in doing the right thing

  • Mario N.
    10/16/2020 16:05

    Stupid! If there had been racial inequality they would not have been there. Two white guys would.

  • Tariq R.
    10/16/2020 15:51

    The real owners of the American mainland are the Red Indians and the black skinned people.BLM I know most white skinned people will laugh at me but the truth cannot be denied. But if you laugh to on my comment ... it means your conscience is blaming you