Courtesy of Ondo Lady.
The above picture of Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City is enthralling as it powerfully captured a political moment in time. The event was one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games.
Tommie Smith stated in his autobiography, Silent Gesture, that the salute was not a Black Power salute, but in fact a human rights salute.
On the morning of October 16, 1968, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race in a world-record time of 19.83 seconds, Australia’s Peter Norman came second with a time of 20.06 seconds, and the U.S.’s John Carlos in third place with a time of 20.10 seconds. After they completed the race, the three went to collect their medals at the podium. The two U.S. 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 U.S. 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.” All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia’s White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals.
Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. It was the Australian, Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith’s left-handed glove, which is the reason why he raised his left hand, as opposed to his right, differing from the traditional Black Power salute. When ‘The Star-Spangled Banner ’ played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world.
As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd. Smith later said, “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
Their courageousness against global racism and oppression not only resonated with Black Americans, it resonated with people all across the globe and became a historically iconic image that is still captivating today.