Today is the anniversary of Tommie Smith and John Carlos' famous Black power salute at the 1968 Olympics. The image of Smith and Carlos with fists raised is one of the most recognizable sports photos in history. The story behind the famous image, however, is less well known.
Earlier in the year Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis. A police mob in Chicago had beaten anti-war protestors at the Democratic National Convention. Muhammad Ali was still banned from boxing and fighting his conviction for refusing to be drafted.
Days before the Olympic games began in Mexico City, police and troops gunned down hundreds of student activists who had gathered in the city's Three Cultures Square to protest. All of this was fresh in the minds of Tommie Smith and John Carlos when they ran the 200-meter race.
As they went to the podium to receive the gold and bronze medals, Smith and Carlos decided to send a message to the world. "I had a moral obligation to step up. Morality was a far greater force than the rules and regulations they had" John Carlos would later say.
The athletes recognized that their protest would have consequences. They were undeterred. When the Star Spangled Banner began playing, they bowed their heads and raised their black-gloved fists.

Immediately the crowd began to boo, with spectators shouting out racist slurs.
No one was more furious than Avery Bundage, the American head of the International Olympic Committee. He ordered Smith and Carlos to be suspended from the U.S. national team and kicked out of the Olympic Village. He labeled their act "a violent breach" of the Olympic spirit.
Brundage's reaction to Smith and Carlos' salute was markedly different from his reaction to the Nazi salutes at the 1936 Olympics, which he defended as a "national salute" that was fit for a competition among nations.
Smith and Carlos were effectively blackballed from Olympic sports. They and their family received death threats.

The following year John Carlos set the 100-yeard world record. Yet neither he nor Tommie Smith would ever run in another Olympics.
That's the story of the what came before and after the famous image... but what about the image itself? One thing that you might notice is that all three athletes are wearing a white badge on the top right of their uniforms.
The badges are for the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), an organization founded the prior year to protest segregation both in the United States and abroad, and racism in sports. Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist, joined Smith and Carlos in supporting OPHR.
Peter Norman had been a critic of Australia's racist policies. When Carlos left his blacks gloves at the Olympic Village, it was Norman who suggested that Carlos wear Smith's left-handed glove for the salute. Like Smith and Carlos, Norman was blackballed from future Olympics.
"The only thing that I would say that I regret in the whole scenario is the fact that I was young, and I didn’t think the thing all the way through, in terms of how to protect my family better. Other than that, I have no misgivings whatsoever." -John Carlos in 2013
"Just by the grace of God, I’ll say, what happened to us in Mexico City was a spiritual thing. God stepped in. Everything fell right."

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has a wonderful interview with John Carlos you can watch:…

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