50 years after Black Power Fist, John Carlos and Tommie Smith to be inducted into Olympic Hall of Fame

October 10, 2019

Then Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Smith and Carlos stare downward during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968.

Originally, John Carlos and Tommie Smith planned to call for a boycott of the Olympics over the lack of Black coaches at the 1968 Olympics. But with a massacre in Mexico City happening 10 days before the opening of the games, the black-gloved fist was a “cry for freedom and for human rights,” as Smith said. Unfortunately, this gesture came with swift backlash. Smith and Carlos, whose mother grew up in Cuba, received suspensions from the U.S. team and death threats from angry spectators. The moment changed their lives. Carlos, for example, said a few years ago that the first 10 years after the ’68 Olympics “were hell” for him and that it affected his wife and kids as well. Now, more than 50 years later, Carlos and Smith will be inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Smith (left) and Carlos hold up their fists at the Mexican Olympic Committee building in Mexico City on Oct. 15, 2008.

“It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong,” Carlos told USA Today. “They’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.’”

As the years have passed, many have recognized why the fist was so necessary. In 2005, for example, San Jose State dedicated a statue to them. And they even visited the White House with U.S. Olympians in 2016.

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