Tommie Smith & John Carlos This week, there are 2 revolutionaries, although they acted together.
They are, Tommie Smith & John Carlos. Both were United States Olympic sprinters who recieved medal's at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Tommie Smith, born in 1944, was the son of a migrant worker. John Carlos, born in 1945, was from Harlem.
Smith & Carlos were teammates at San Jose State College & were amazing sprinters. They both were involved in a planned Olympic boycott by black athletes.
In the fall of 1967 amateur black athletes formed Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) to organize this boycott of the 1968 Olympics. The OPHR founding statement read, in part:
" We must no longer allow this country to use a few so-called Negroes to point out to the world how much progress she has made in solving her racial problems when the oppression of Afro-Americans is greater than it ever was. We must no longer allow the sports world to pat itself on the back as a citadel of racial justice when the racial injustices of the sports world are infamously legendary...any black person who allows himself to be used in the above matters is a traitor because he allows racist whites the luxury of resting assured that those black people in the ghettos are there because that is where they want to be. So we ask why should we run in Mexico only to crawl back home?"
The OPHR also demanded the restoration of Muhammad Ali's heavyweight title (which was stripped from him due to his resistance to the military draft), the removal of white supremacist Avery Brundage as head of the US Olympic Committee, & the "disinviting" of 2 apartheid states, South Africa & Rhodesia.
The IOC made a gesture of conceding to the 3rd demand, but Carlos & Smith were far from satisfied.
So, on the second day of the Olympic games, when Smith set a world record in the 200 meters, & Carlos placed 3rd, they let the world know exactly how they felt.
When the medal ceremony started Smith & Carlos stood barefoot on the medal podium wearing beads around their necks which they said symbolized, " those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no one said a prayer for, that were hung tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the Middle Passage."
As the American flag began it's ascent up the flagpole & the opening of the "Star Spangled Banner" played, Smith & Carlos stood barefoot with heads bowed & fists raised in a black power salute.
When the silver medalist, a runner from Australia, Peter Norman, saw what was happening, he ran into the stands to grab an OPHR patch off a supporter's chest to show his solidarity on the medal stand.
The fallout was both positive & negative. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) not only forced the US Olympic Committee to withdraw the 2 world class sprinters from the upcoming relays, but had them expelled from the US Olympic Team.
Carlos said, " We didn't come up there with any bombs. We were trying to wake the country up & wake the world up too."
Tommie Smith added, " It's not something I can lay on my shelf and forget about. My heart and soul are still on that team, & I still believe everything we were trying to fight for in 1968 has not been resolved & will be part of our future."
Dave Zirin calls Tommie Smith & John Carlos' actions, " arguably the most enduring image in sports history, the image has stood the test of time, the politics that led to that moment has been cast aside by capitalism's committment to political amnesia; it's political teeth extracted."
He added, " It was a watershed moment of resistance. But Carlos & Smith are not merely creatures of nostalgia. As we build resistance today to war, theirs is a living history we should celebrate."