In a time when Black people in the United States were still facing harsh racism, dealing with segregation and overall discrimination, on the world’s biggest stage in Mexico, Tommie Smith & John Carlos contributed to one of the most powerful protest movements in history.
After winning Gold & Bronze, respectively for the Men’s 200 Metre race, they took the stage with black socks & each had 1 black glove. They raised their fists and bowed their heads in, what Tommie referred to as his book title, a ‘silent gesture.’ It was something that was unexpected, so of course reactions across the world were of joy, hate, but at the same time, they weren’t just raising their fists for Black people, it was more of a human rights approach. Power for everyone, as it should be.
1968, is one of the most fascinating years to read up on (as I’ve advertised before, read 1968, trust me), because of the amount of political activity that went on worldwide and the events that transpired shook the world as well. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy & Martin Luther King Jr alone, were enough to make it a year that would be remembered in infamy, and there were many more events bigger than this single stage of protest by these athletes, but for myself, it was one of the more intriguing acts, simply because of what it was, at the time, and the place. All you can really do is sit and admire it in awe.
There was more behind the ‘Black Fist Salute’ that a lot of people are not aware of. Because of tension in various parts of the world, and the fact that there was a mass murder in Mexico that year, a lot of countries (40 be precise) were considering boycotting, and in the United States, it wasn’t anything different. Various black athletes were threatening to boycott the Games as well due to the recent assassination of MLK. It was a very trying time in the world, and to be honest, it was quite interesting because had it not been for the year that 1968 had experienced, the protesting tactics used in our modern-day, like for example the mass protesting against Authoritarian leaders like Hosini Mubarak in Egypt & Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, would not have been used. It’s crazy how one year can have the severe effect on generations to come.
The African-American athletes had to go to the Olympic Games, but they were promised to safe hospitality and although they were not happy about having to go, it would be an opportunity to show the world that they can still be successful under these grave circumstances. Mexico was faced with having a very difficult time hosting the Olympics, but as the old saying goes, “the show must go on.” Black athletes would still go, “but they wouldn’t participate in medal ceremonies and they would wear black arm bands,” according to a (then) Black Panther activist, whom had not been named.
When Smith & Carlos had done the gesture during the medal ceremony, Carlos was quoted saying, “We wanted all the black people in the world–the little grocer, the man with the shoe repair store–to know that when that medal hands on my chest or Tommie’s, it hands on his also.”
A statement like that so powerful, heart warming, and sentimental just goes to show you that athletes indeed do have a significant influence on everyday people. We watch them on television, we encourage their success, but at the end of it all, they’re human, they have emotions, and they are indeed like us, not in the same degree, but they’re human, they pay taxes, they have families, and if they happen to be black, we have the same colour, so our pain is their pain.
I felt the need to talk about this one instance, simply because of the platform that they had in front of them. On the world’s biggest stage, to display an act of selfless humility, it goes beyond words what that meant for the people at that time. I can only read enough books, and watch enough interviews, but I can’t fully put into words just how dramatic that event was, not only for Black History, but for world history.
That’s My Word & It STiXX