October 16, 1968 – Black Power Salute at the Olympics

On this day in history, American Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood atop the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the American national anthem. Smith and Carlos (both of whom are National Track and Field Hall of Famers) were kicked out of the Olympic village, suspended from the U.S. team, and even received death threats.

But neither man ever apologized for his raised fist or his bowed head.

The Australian silver medalist in the 200 meters in 1968, Peter Norman, displayed his solidarity with their action by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the medal ceremony.

Gold medalist Tommie Smith (center) and bronze medalist John Carlos (right) raise black-gloved fists during the American national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Australian sprinter Peter Norman, who won silver in the 200 meters and supported Carlos and Smith's protest, stands at left.  John Dominis—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Gold medalist Tommie Smith (center) and bronze medalist John Carlos (right) raise black-gloved fists during the American national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Australian sprinter Peter Norman, who won silver in the 200 meters and supported Carlos and Smith’s protest, stands at left. John Dominis—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

In 2012, Carlos said in an interview:

It’s like this: If I don’t stand and fight for change, then I’m part of the tyranny that’s taking place. I refuse to succumb to being a second class citizen, and not being able to go the university of my choice, or live in this community. I refuse to always be the doorman, or the guy who cleans the toilets. You can’t whitewash what God has planned for me in my life.”

Carlos reported that Norman was scorned for his support, and not even acknowledged at the 2000 Olympic games in Australia. In spite of this, Norman never changed his position on human rights. In 2006, both Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral.

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