The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute was a noted black civil rights protest and one of the most overtly political statements in the 110 year history of the modern Olympic Games. African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed the Power to the People salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Monday, February 16, 2009
1968 Olympics Black Power salute
On the morning of October 16, 1968, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 metre race in a then-world-record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia's Peter Norman second with a time of 20.07 seconds, and U.S. Carlos in third place with a time of 20.10 seconds. After the race was completed, the three went to collect their medals at the podium. The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride. Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described "were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage." All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges, after Norman expressed sympathy with their ideals. Sociologist Harry Edwards, the founder of the OPHR, had urged black athletes to boycott the games; reportedly, the actions of Smith and Carlos on October 16, 1968 were inspired by Edwards' arguments. Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. It was the Australian, Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith's left-handed glove, this being the reason behind him raising his left hand, as opposed to his right, differing from the traditional Black Power salute. When "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd. Smith later said "If 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."  International Olympic Committee response IOC president Avery Brundage deemed a domestic political statement unfit for the apolitical, international forum the Olympic Games were supposed to be. In an immediate response to their actions, he ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village. When the US Olympic Committee refused, Brundage threatened to ban the entire US track team. This threat led to the two athletes being expelled from the Games. A spokesperson for the organization said it was "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit." Brundage, who was president of the United States Olympic Committee in 1936, had made no objections against Nazi salutes during the Berlin Olympics. The Nazi salute, being a national salute at the time, was accepted in a competition of nations, while the athletes' salute was not of a nation and so was considered unacceptable. In 2008, the official IOC website states that "Over and above winning medals, the black American athletes made names for themselves by an act of racial protest."  Aftermath Smith and Carlos were largely ostracized by the U.S. sporting establishment in the following years and in addition were subject to criticism of their actions. Time magazine showed the five-ring Olympic logo with the words, "Angrier, Nastier, Uglier", instead of "Faster, Higher, Stronger". Back home they were subject to abuse and they and their families received death threats. Smith continued in athletics, going on to play American football with the Cincinnati Bengals, before becoming an assistant professor of Physical Education at Oberlin College. In 1995 he went on to help coach the U.S. team at the World Indoor Championships at Barcelona. In 1999 he was awarded a Sportsman of the Millennium award. He is now a public speaker. Carlos' career followed a similar path to Smith. He initially continued in athletics, equaling the 100m world record the following year. Later he played American football with the Philadelphia Eagles before a knee injury prematurely ended his career. He fell upon hard times in the late 1970s and in 1977 his wife committed suicide. In 1982 Carlos was employed by the Organizing Committee for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles to promote the games and act as liaison with the city's black community. In 1985 he became a track and field coach at Palm Springs High School, a post which he still holds. Norman, who was sympathetic to his competitors' protest, was reprimanded by his country's Olympic authorities and ostracized by the Australian media. He was not picked for the 1972 Summer Olympics, despite finishing third in his trials. He kept running, but contracted gangrene in 1985 after tearing his Achilles tendon, which nearly led to his leg being amputated. Depression and heavy drinking followed. He suffered a heart attack and died on October 3, 2006. Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral. Statue in honor of Smith and Carlos on the campus of San José State University San José State University honored former students Smith and Carlos with a twenty-two foot high statue of their protest in 2005. In January 2007, History San José opened a new exhibit called Speed City: From Civil Rights to Black Power, covering the San Jose State University athletic program "from which many student athletes became globally recognized figures as the Civil Rights and Black Power movements reshaped American society." On March 3, 2008, in the Detroit Free Press editorial section, an editorial by Orin Starn entitled "Bottom line turns to hollow gold for today's Olympians" lamented the lack of social engagement of modern sports athletes, in contrast to Smith and Carlos. Smith and Carlos received an Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2008 ESPY Awards honoring their action. The Sydney Film Festival in mid-2008 featured a documentary about the protest, titled "Salute", and directed and produced by Matt Norman, an Australian actor and film-maker, and Peter Norman's nephew. On Wednesday, July 9, 2008, at 2100, BBC Four broadcast a documentary, Black Power Salute, by Geoff Small, about the protest and its aftermath. In an article, Small noted that the athletes of the British team attending the 2008 Olympics in Beijing had been asked to sign gagging clauses which would have restricted their right to make political statements, but that they had refused. The Salute was featured in a "Nick News" special on Black History Month, during the "Did You Know?" portion. The special aired on Sunday, February 1st, 2009.Courtesy of:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Olympics_Black_Power_salute