Tom Smith and John Carlos had to face injustice and show the whole world that being a good person isn’t conditioned by the color of your skin. Although they weren’t allowed to perform in U.S. national team any longer, they entered the history forever.
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The Olympic Games of 1968 took place in Mexico, and track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos participated in the competition representing the United States. Smith won the 200-meter sprint finals and Carlos took the bronze medal.
However, the black athletes weren’t there to only take their medals. Together with silver medalist Peter Norman, who also supported the equality among people, they wore the badge of the OPHR standing on the podium.
“When I win people call me American, and when I lose they call me black American. We are black and we are proud of that,” Smith said.
As soon as the U.S. anthem played, Smith and Carlos put their lack-gloved fists in the air in a civil rights protest against racism.
“We were targeted before that; people used to threaten us wherever we went, they laughed and swore, as if we weren’t humans. We didn’t wish to simply participate in the competition and return home, where they still continued to manifest discrimination towards the black population. Our main goal was to start a dialogue with the country, as it was necessary to establish social justice in the United States. We were athletes, so we used our position to speak on behalf of the black people,” Smith said years later.
Photo: Associated Press
More than 400-million people witnessed the protest that day. Smith, Carlos and Norman left the field while the audience was whistling. Their pictures decorated the front pages of various publications on the next day, but the society didn’t accept the news as it was intended. The athletes raising their hands were compared to the Nazis.
“We knew what was going to happen, and we were convinced that we will have to leave the national team without an opportunity to find a job in U.S. However, we were ready for everything,” Smith continued.
IOC deemed the step to be a domestic political statement; Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village.
Nonetheless, Smith and Carlos had their supporters: many athletes from U.S. team repeated the same protest and the managers had to suspend more athletes from the team.
The world started to gradually realize the importance of this step, understand that they didn’t do anything wrong, and simply wished to achieve equality.
Photo: Associated Press
The movement was named Black Power, becoming the symbol of Afro-Americans’ fight, which started to be used around the world.
The picture inspired the construction of a similar monument in U.S., but the second place on the podium is empty. It is left for everyone who wishes to see equality.