Thursday, April 11, 2013

1968 Black Power Salute

                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.


  1. I'm caught up on the fact that the all three winning athletes were wearing badges to support the Olympic Project for Human Rights. African-Americans fought in the wars on behalf of human rights internationally that weren't even offered to them at home. Also, the IOC's actions were incredibly unjust, especially in light of the unpunished Nazi salutes. I applaud the athletes for using their platform to shed more light on the Movement, though its a shame that the international community responded in that way.

  2. I think their use of symbolism was brilliant. The power of that image is incredible, and although it caused significant backlash, it also shed a lot of light on U.S. racial problems. I think much of the initial negative reaction was sheer shock that they would do such a thing, as well as feelings of betrayal. The Olympics are so bound up with national identity and patriotism; this was an injury to U.S. pride on an international scale, which really explains the hostility at home.

  3. I find it interesting when these athletes are the best of the best chosen to represent America and people hate them for things like that. Just the fact that he won the gold medal for America should make him free to do what he wants hell I mean he probably spent years training to give the US honor and we immediately backlash against him when he does something that is a sign of protest.
    This incident most likely caused many people not of the US to realize the racial issues that were prevalent in the US. I say this because it was probably at the cover if not one of the pages of the newspapers around the world as there were major repercussions for this event.
    I like all the different elements of his clothing represent a different issue in America. Where some people might see as dishonor they saw it as a sign of the times. Much like Jimmy Hendrix’s national anthem.

  4. I wonder how that expression would be considered now. I run track and field and so I think about what it would be like to be on the stage and have all the attention focused on you. I often find myself thinking about this exact moment in history and how brave they were to do it. But what I would really like to know is whether or not raising one fist in the air at the olympic games now would have the same impact. I am sure many would respond with confusion and be upset that they did not put their hand to their heart, but there is still injustice in the world especially for the African American community. I think that a similar action must be taken, but I remember one postgame conference this season where a small-time basketball program won against some alright basketball school called Duke. The small-time basketball coach used his opportunity at the national stage to ask President Obama to do something about the recent strings of gun related acts of violence. People on the national or global stage need to take more actions like that, to get a message across.