Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Forty-five Years Ago Tonight

Forty-five years ago tonight after winning and placing third in the 200-meter dash in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, John Carlos and Tommie Smith made this now famous black-glove salute during the playing of the National Anthem.

Click on the image to make it larger:

On the left is Peter Norman from Australia. He won the silver medal. There is a great article in "The Nation" you should read by clicking here. As a side note to the 200-meter race that night, Lee Evans won the 400-meter dash the next night, he took the podium, received his gold medal and as the Star Spangled Banner started to play, he pulled out a black beret, bowed his head and protested much like Carlos and Smith did the night before.

All three athletes became pariahs because of their support for the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). Smith and Carlos also took off their shoes and wore black stockings to represent the poverty of African-Americans in the United States. Smith and Carlos also wore OPHR pins to show support for the cause. Peter Norman also wore one of those pins to show his support.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos traded back and forth several times the world record in the 200-meter dash in the late sixties. They went on to have successful careers with John Carlos eventually earning his PhD.

One reason this photograph carries significant meaning to me is because the architect of the protest of the Olympics was Harry Edwards. Harry Edwards was my Sociology of Sport Professor at Berkley in 1974. He was an imposing figure as he lectured to us in a large hall without a microphone. He did not need one. As an undergraduate, he was a discus thrower on the San Jose State University track team. Dr. Edwards earned his PhD at Cornell. He is now a Professor Emeritus in the Sociology department at Berkeley.

Edwards told Time magazine, he "wants to serve as a role model — the promising athlete who gave up the possibility of a career in professional sports to become a scholar instead." He also stated, "We must teach our children to dream with their eyes open," he said. "The chances of your becoming a Jerry Rice or a Magic Johnson are so slim as to be negligible. Black kids must learn to distribute their energies in a way that's going to make them productive, contributing citizens in an increasingly high-technology society."

I could write a lot more about this life-defining moment, but I want to put this thing to bed and go there myself.

As always, I look forward to your comments.



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