52nd anniversary of the Olympics Black Power salute
October 16, 2020 7:40 AM   Subscribe

October 16, 2020 marks the 52nd anniversary of the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. After winning the 200-meter dash, American runners Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) took the medal stand and raised gloved fists during the playing of the US national anthem (link to YouTube). To their right on the medal stand was Australian sprinter Peter Norman (silver).

All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights patches on their jackets. OPHR was an organization founded in 1967 by Dr. Harry Edwards comprised of prominent Olympic athletes created to expose the mistreatment of Black athletes in America. The OPHR also sought to debunk the lie that there was racial equality in America as a result of Black athletes seemingly being accepted into major-league sports. Additionally, the two US 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 US, his father's World War I military medal, 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."

In response, the International Olympic Committee withdrew Smith and Carlos from all future races and kicked them out of the Olympic Village. The two returned to the States to death threats and attacks on their homes, as well as being ostracized by the US sporting establishment. Four years later, Wayne Collett and Vincent Matthews were banned from the Olympics after a similar protest at the 1972 Munich games.

Norman also faced heavy criticism in Australia; he was not picked for the 1972 Summer Olympics, despite having qualified 13 times over, and during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he was the only VIP sportsperson to be banned from taking the lap of honor.

There are multiple tributes in honor of Smith, Norman, and Carlos: In 1999, Smith was awarded the California Black Sportsman of the Millennium Award. In 2003, Carlos was elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. When Norman died in 2006, Smith and Carlos were speakers and pallbearers at his funeral. In 2011, John Carlos published a biography titled The John Carlos Story (co-authored with Dave Zirin and foreword by Cornel West). n 2012, Australia formally apologized to Norman.
posted by wicked_sassy (9 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

Norman also faced heavy criticism in Australia; he was not picked for the 1972 Summer Olympics, despite having qualified 13 times over, and during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he was the only VIP sportsperson to be banned from taking the lap of honor.

I guess I shouldn't be amazed that this was still going on in the year 2000, but I honestly am.

I couldn't access the video of the protest due to region restrictions, so here's another one (ABC's coverage of the moment, plus a short interview of Tommie Smith by Howard Cosell.)

Thanks for this post. I've been reading some of the relevant wikipedia entries and there are so many amazing (in both wonderful and terrible ways) details about the event and the later lives of the people involved. It's an incredible rabbithole.

Here's one of the terrible ones:
Brundage, who was president of the United States Olympic Committee in 1936, had made no objections against Nazi salutes during the Berlin Olympics. He argued that the Nazi salute, being a national salute at the time, was acceptable in a competition of nations, while the athletes' salute was not of a nation and therefore unacceptable.

Brundage had been accused of being one of the United States' most prominent Nazi sympathisers even after the outbreak of the Second World War, and his removal as president of the IOC had been one of the three stated objectives of the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
Avery Brundage was apparently a real schmuck.

It looks like the documentary Fists of Freedom is available on YouTube.
posted by trig at 10:30 AM on October 16 [8 favorites]

22-foot high statue titled Victory Salute at San Jose State University

This statue was conceived to be participatory:
The statue stands at 22 feet tall, and notably lacks Australian second place medalist Peter Norman. (It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute after Carlos left his pair in the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.) Norman stood in solidarity with Smith and Carlos (and suffered back in his native Australia because of it). Rather than be depicted in the installation he suggested his space on the platform be left empty. This allows visitors to stand in his spot on the podium, in solidarity with the civil rights movement for years to come.
posted by Mitheral at 11:25 AM on October 16 [35 favorites]

Wait--they had the Olympics in October?
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:31 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

I've always loved the moment, the pose, the photo. It's such a simple gesture, yet obviously had a huge effect. When I learned about it as a child, it was hard for me to understand why people would be so upset over it.
posted by rocketman at 12:05 PM on October 16 [4 favorites]

We recently watched the NBC documentary on those Olympics 1968 (youtube link), narrated by Serena Williams, and I thought it did a good job of covering this iconic moment, as well as setting the overall Olympic games of that year into its historic perspective. I had somehow not been aware that the salute was only part of the 68 Olympics intersection with socio-political events - there was also the horrifying Tlatelolco Massacre.

I know a guy who was there as part of the U.S. crew team that gets a shout-out in the linked documentary. In addition to the controversies, his enduring memories are of the nasty water they rowed in, and the trouble they all had with the altitude.
posted by rekrap at 3:36 PM on October 16

Wait--they had the Olympics in October?

Nice and cool then
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:53 PM on October 16

ABC Grandstand tweet with video (1:48) about Peter Norman and the statue of him unveiled in 2019.
posted by freethefeet at 1:32 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

22-foot high statue titled Victory Salute at San Jose State University

For all its flaws, SJSU has some fine public art, including Judy Baca's 2008 Cesar Chavez arch.
posted by JDC8 at 9:48 AM on October 17

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