It is October 9, 2006. Tommie Smith and John Carlos carry on their shoulders the coffin of the man who, on October 16, 1968, did not raise a fist, but held out his hand to demonstrate against racial discrimination in the United States.
His name was Peter Norman, white, and he came from Australia, a country with almost as tough apartheid laws as South Africa’s. In his country, too, there were tensions and street protests, generated by heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and laws that discriminate against Aborigines.
But let’s take a step back:
The games of the nineteenth Olympiad were held in Mexico City in 1968. They start on 12 October and end on the 27th of the same month. The political climate was heavy. On 2 October 1968, close to the Olympic Games, the tragedy of the Tlatelolco massacre took place. Thousands of students protesting against Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s repressive government were surrounded and killed by the army. The country was traversed by the tensions that characterize the entire year, from the student protest to the offensive in Vietnam, from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bob Kennedy to the Russian tanks that suffocate the Prague Spring in blood.
This, the climate of the eve. It was the inaugural ceremony that dispelled bad thoughts. Suddenly, everything else was left out. Only cheerful and smiling faces for the four-year appointment, which compares the strongest athletes in the world. It is the best of young people who compete in athletics, basketball, gymnastics, while another youth outside the stadium is trying to change the world. An attempt at a revolution made up of some successes and many defeats.
What you see are Tommie Smith number 307 first place, won the 200 storey race setting the new world record in 19’83, Peter Norman number 297 (the white athlete) second place and John Carlos number 259 third place. Racism reigned strongly in American society, and for this reason the two black athletes decided to use their awards to demonstrate in favor of the human rights of African Americans.
On October 17, 1968, during the awards ceremony, Smith and Carlos gave birth to what is probably remembered as the most famous protest in the history of the Olympic Games:
The two African American athletes show up without shoes, on their feet only black socks, Smith wore a black scarf around his neck, Carlos wore a colorful beaded necklace to represent a lynched black. Peter Norman in solidarity I wear the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium. The two blacks also wanted to wear two pairs of black gloves, but one of the two American sprinters had forgotten his pair in the locker room and Peter Norman came up with an idea and told them “guys share your gloves … one will put the right and the other the left “For this gesture all three suffered serious consequences.
Between the notes of the US anthem, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised their fists to the sky, representing the most important gesture of protest at an edition of the Olympics. Much of the audience booed the gesture and Avery Brundage, president of the Olympic Commission had Smith and Carlos immediately expelled from the Olympic village. Upon their return home, the two black athletes did not have a good reception, suffered insults and even death threats, remained unemployed for years, but the Australian Peter Norman also suffered heavily the consequences of that 17 October 1968, marginalized by the Australian media and could not participate in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and despite being the fastest Australian athlete at that time, he was not called to the organizing committee in the 2000 Sydney Olympics either. Even today in Australia his 20’06 remains unbeaten.
Peter Norman dies at the age of 67 suffering from a heart attack and at his funeral Smith and Carlos carried his coffin on their shoulders. They paid for their travel ticket out of their pocket to go and say hello to their white friend for the last time. An apology from the Australian parliament only came in 2012, two years after Peter’s death.
Tommie Smith interviewed after many years said: Did I do the right thing in Mexico? I would probably be richer and more popular now, but I would have had to go against my principles.
Tommie, Peter and John never wanted to be stars or legends, but they didn’t, because in a country where there are hundreds of thousands of Johns and hundreds of thousands of Carlos, if you type these two names at the same time, it comes out. photo of the third classified in the 200 floors of 1968, and if you add the name Tommie next to the very common surname Smith, the photo of who won that race comes out.
The economic benefits pass,
a gesture carved in history is forever !!
As always, I leave a small download for you.
I hope you enjoyed the work done.
See you soon.