Long Overdue

November, 2016
  • American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos
    American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos
    American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos

In 1968, when the summer Olympics Games in Mexico took place, the turmoil in American society surrounding the issue of civil rights was at its zenith. Two American sprinters - Tommie Smith and John Carlos ran the 200 meters and won the gold and bronze medal in that discipline. However, when they took the podium to receive their medals they decided they wanted to use this moment to demonstrate to the world that equality is just not for some but for all. So with one raised black-gloved fist in the air, that lasted 1 minute and 30 seconds, these two young men caused a stir around the world about racial inequality in the U.S.

The action of the two men caused swift retribution, shunning the two athletes from the Olympic community and from jobs and opportunities in the United States. The two knew there was a price to pay for their act of civil disobedience but never imagined it would be this severe.

However, with the passage of time, people finally realized that their action was courageous and shined a light on the issue of racial inequality.  At their alma mater, San Jose State, a statute on campus is erected in support of their famous podium protest.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith

John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

50 years later, while honoring the 2016 summer Olympic team, President Obama invited Tommie Smith and John Carlos (and their families) to be honored as Olympic champions and praise them for their courage. The President said, “Their powerful silent protest in the 1968 games was controversial, but it woke folks up and created greater opportunity for those who followed.”  When asked about the President’s comments and being honored after 50 years, Mr. Smith said, “I felt great. I stood up there and just ate it all up.”

In the summer of 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were just young men who wanted to bring light to an issue that was important to them. 50 years is a long time for recognition, but by putting their fist in the air they became legends and legends live on forever.

Source: “Obama Salutes Iconic Olympic protesters, at White House” by Margaret Brennan for CBS News


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