Monday, December 6, 2010

Tommie Smith and John Carlos: Making a Stand

At the 1968 Summer Olympic Games, one of the most memorable award ceremonies was held. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, respectively, won the gold and bronze medals. As the American flag rose and the Star-Spangled Banner began to play, the two closed their eyes, bowed their heads, and began their protest.”

John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black gloved-fists as a nod to Black Power. It all began when a friend of theirs, Harry Edwards, attempted to launch a mass boycott of the summer games by all black American athletes. His organization, OPHR, gained popularity, but the boycott never materialized. Inspired by his effort, however, Carlos and Smith wore an assortment of black materials to represent Black Power in the Civil Rights Movement. They did not wear shoes to represent poverty among African Americans. The raising of the fists acknowledged Black Power in America. This act by Smith and Carlos was brave, because they were not the ones necessarily suffering, rather their friends and family were. They could have left their fists un-raised, and celebrated their victory in the spotlight of the world. They, however, were not content with abandoning their brothers and sisters in the unjust lands of America. They knew their actions would have severe repercussions, and they did: “While the protest seems relatively tame by today's standards, the actions of Smith and Carlos were met with such outrage that they were suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village, the athletes' home during the games.”

Although this act by John Carlos and Tommie Smith was costly, it moved very many. Carlos and Smith had won the race alongside a white. I believe a lot can be said of the concept of them winning and standing alongside a white on the podium. By raising their fists, they were calling for justice and equality for their people. They had won a race among the world’s greatest athletes. This triumph, obviously, deserved to be recognized as an achievement for African Americans and America as a whole. When they raised their fists, it was if they were telling the world not to forget about their friends and family back home because they had not.

If you were able to stand in Carlos’ and Smith’s shoes, would you have done the same thing? Do you support their act? How much meaning does their act actually carry?



  1. Its interesting you mention the white runner who also stood among Smith and Carlos. The austrian runner Peter Norman was have said to ask Smith and Carlos if he could play a role in their silent stand. While he did not raise his fast as the two African Americans did, Norman did wear a badge representing the civil rights movement in hopes to show his support. I would have to say that these men did a courageous stance as they would go onto face much criticism and ridicule when they would return to America.

  2. It's hard to say what if I would be able to raise my fist if placed in the shoes of either Smith or Carlos. I'd like to say that I would be able to stand proudly with my fist raised, but with millions of eyes watching it is more than fathomable to say that the weight of the world would crush any hopes I have of protesting. My own inabilities aside, I support their actions. The raising of their fists symbolized a unique victory for Black Power as the movement extended beyond United States soil, broadcasted for the entire world to see.

  3. I agree with mcpje; I'm not sure whether I would be able to raise my fist if I were in Smith or Carlos' positions. I would be terrified of the consequences because it raises international attention. And given the violence that had occurred throughout the civil rights and black power movement, I would be afraid of the negative effects that decision would have on my friends and family at home. Also, I question the meaning that their act carries. I think it's easy to look back on the men raising their fist in protest today and glorify what they did and the message they were sending. They took a huge risk in doing what they did. But at the time, the outrage was so prevalent that it could have even been detrimental to the movement.