Rhetoric & Composition I Rotating Header Image

Mexico City, 1968

“Mexico City, Oct. 18–The United States Olympic Committee suspended Tommie Smith and John Carlos today for having used last Wednesday’s victory ceremony for the 200- meter dash at the Olympic Games as the vehicle for a black power demonstration.”

“The two Negro sprinters were told by Douglas F. Roby, the president of the committee, that they must leave the Olympic Village. Their credentials also were taken away, which made it mandatory for them to leave Mexico within 48 hours.”

“2 Black Power Advocates Ousted From Olympics”
Page A1, but the photo did not accompany the article: 

“Then, late in the Games, Smith and Carlos came up with their almost impromptu plan for the silent scream of those raised fists. The American news media were brutal. At home, most blacks smiled; most whites smoldered. Shortly after the protest, Smith told the ABC commentator Howard Cosell: “The right glove that I wore on my right hand signified the power within black America. The left glove my teammate John Carlos wore on his left hand made an arc with my right hand and his left hand, also to signify black unity. The scarf that was worn around my neck signified blackness. John Carlos and me wore socks, black socks, without shoes, to also signify our poverty.”

“The two medalists were soon kicked off the team, and as Hoffer reveals, that was only a prelude to death threats and more. “Nothing either would say was ­really registering,” Hoffer writes. “They had, in almost total spontaneity, created a scene of discontent that was so powerful that words would always fail it.” Again and again, they “tried to explain their symbols of protest, their furious pose, but the words piled up uselessly against the image they’d created.” For years to come, both Carlos and Smith would pay mightily for their galvanizing gesture. It derailed their athletic careers and apparently helped to end their marriages.”

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The year 1968 would change the course of America forever. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated that April, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to go for reelection due to his health and early poll numbers which reflected the disapproval from Americans about the Vietnam War. Lastly, at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico, two Black athletes made a stand which resonated with the millions of Blacks fighting oppression back in their native country, the United States.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were two African American track and field athletes who were in the first Olympic games of their career. On October 16, 1968, Smith won the 200 meter dash with a time of 20.06 seconds; Peter Norman from Australia came in second, while John Carlos came third.

What happened next, would be a pivotal moment in the Black Power movement for equal rights which dominated the late 60s.  Smith and Carlos each rose a gloved hand with a clinched fist, which was considered symbolic to the Black power movement that was on the defensive of the treatment of African Americans. Once leaving the podium, the two were booed by the crowd immensely and once back home, their families were targets of verbal abuse and death threats. On top of that, the two were also suspended from their Olympic team and expelled from the Olympic village. Still, the two went on to live very prominent lives, and their actions in 1968 have made them immortal to the African American community forever. 

(photo/text source)