Watching the doco SALUTE - the story of Peter Norman, the white Australian who won the silver for the 200m at the Mexico Olympics... it's a story about Tommy Smith & John Carlos making one of the most memorable statements of the decade I was born in!
On the morning of October 16, 1968, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race in a world-record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia's Peter Norman second with a time of 20.07 seconds, and the U.S.'s John Carlos in third place with a time of 20.10 seconds. After the race was completed, the three went to collect their medals at the podium. The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described "were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage." All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia's White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals. Sociologist Harry Edwards, the founder of the OPHR, had urged black athletes to boycott the games; reportedly, the actions of Smith and Carlos on October 16, 1968 were inspired by Edwards' arguments.
Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. It was the Australian, Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith's left-handed glove, this being the reason behind him raising his left hand, as opposed to his right, differing from the traditional Black Power salute. When "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd. Smith later said "If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."
International Olympic Committee response
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Avery Brundage, deemed it to be a domestic political statement, unfit for the apolitical, international forum the Olympic Games were supposed to be. In an immediate response to their actions, he ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village. When the US Olympic Committee refused, Brundage threatened to ban the entire US track team. This threat led to the two athletes being expelled from the Games.
A spokesman for the IOC said it was "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit." Brundage, who was president of the United States Olympic Committee in 1936, had made no objections against Nazi salutes during the Berlin Olympics. The Nazi salute, being a national salute at the time, was accepted in a competition of nations, while the athletes' salute was not of a nation and so was considered unacceptable.
The official IOC website states that "Over and above winning medals, the black American athletes made names for themselves by an act of racial protest."