In 1968 two Black Americans won Olympic medals in the 200m track races held in Mexico. Tommie Smith won the gold medal for the United States and John Carlos brought home the bronze. In protest of the injustices done to African Americans in the United States both Tommie and John raised the black power salute with heads bowed on the podium. The simple act sparked a massive reaction world-wide. The platform of the Olympics provided an international platform for African Americans to demonstrate against the oppression they were experiencing at home regardless of what the US wanted the world to see.
While the act of raising the black gloved fist in the air was so simple and recognizable, there were other aspects of the protest that was no so recognizable. Both competitors took to the podium in only black socks to represent black poverty in the US. Carlos wore his track jacket unzipped as a way to represent the blue-collar workers and a necklace with beads that he said represented those that had been lynched or killed. All three athletes on the podium wore badges to support the Olympic Project for Human Rights. During the national anthem both American athletes bowed their head and raised their salute and because of that action there was major push back against these particular athletes and other African American athletes.
As Tommie and John left the podium they were booed by the crowd and were met with harsh consequences from International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC saw the action as a violent protest and banned the athletes from the Olympic village and demanded they be suspended from the US track team. Despite the fact that the previous Nazi salutes had seen no repercussions, Tommie and John were highly ridiculed and banned from the village because of their silent protest against racism.
To this day the image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in the air resonates greatly in the world of sports and in the imagery of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a demonstration that put the fundamental problems of racism in the US into the international spotlight. Whether the point of these athletes was to shine light on the situation or to simply show pride in who they were and the race they represented, it made a statement around the world.
Information also found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Olympics_Black_Power_salute