45th anniversary of John Carlos-Tommie Smith ‘black power salute’ at ’68 Olympics

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“The untypical exhibitionism of these athletes also violates the basic standards of good manners and sportsmanship, which are so highly valued in the United States, and therefore the two men involved are suspended forthwith from the team and ordered to remove themselves from the Olympic Village,” the statement continued.

“The impact of the protest was immediate,” said Edwards. “The 
U.S. 
Olympic 
Committee,
 acting 
hastily
 and
 rashly,
 warned
 all 
other 
U.S. 
athletes,
 black and
 white, 
that 
”severe”
 penalties
would

follow
 any 
further
 protests.
 Smith
 and
 Carlos
 were given
 48
 hours
 to
 get
 out
 of
 Mexico
 and
 were
 suspended
 from
 the
 Olympic 
team.”

Rarely mentioned is the silent political statement made by the third medalist on the podium that day—  Australian silver medalist Peter Norman.  Norman, who sympathized with his African-American colleagues, wore the OPHR badge they had give him.  Further, Norman had suggested the two men share Smith’s pair of black gloves, given that Carlos had forgotten his own pair.

“I couldn’t see why a black man wasn’t allowed to drink out of the same water fountain or sit in the same bus or go to the same schools as a white guy,” said Norman, who had a strong Salvation Army upbringing. “That was just social injustice that I couldn’t do anything about from where I was, but I certainly abhorred it.”

Norman had opposed his own nation’s racism, including the White Australia policy.  Aboriginal children were still being forcibly removed from their families.  Moreover, indigenous Australians had only been given the right to vote three years earlier, and were only counted in the census for the first time the year before.  So, while the two black Olympians were loathed by many in America and were the targets of racial slurs, in those days of black power they were admired by some.  Norman was not a hero in Australia, with its festering racial problems.

Ultimately, Norman was punished by the Australian Olympic Committee and made an outcast by the Australian media.  Further, he was not selected for the 1972 Munich games, and was snubbed at the 2000 Sydney games, to which he was not invited to the opening or closing ceremonies.  In 2006, after he died of a heart attack, Smith and Carlos traveled to Melbourne to serve as pall bearers at Norman’s funeral.

Norman, the untold hero of the 1968 Olympics who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the pair of black gloves, still holds the Australian record for the 200-meter dash.  And yet, he was excluded from the history books in Australia.  Last year, Peter Norman finally received an apology from the Australian parliament, even as the AOC still denied it had blacklisted him.

“A protest like this, on a global stage, had never been done before.  At the time, it was electrifying,” said Australian Member of Parliament Andrew Leigh issuing an apology to Norman’s family in a speech before the legislature.  “In that moment Norman advanced international awareness for racial equality.  He was proud to stand with Smith and Carlos and the three remained lifelong friends.”

“In the simple act of wearing that badge, Peter Norman showed the world he stood for racial equality,” Leigh added.  “He showed us that the action of one person can make a difference.  It’s a message that echoes down to us today.  Whether refusing to tolerate a racist joke or befriending a new migrant, each of us can – and all of us should – be a Peter Norman in our own lives.”

Meanwhile, at San Jose State University, a 23 foot statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos was erected in 2004 to honor the famous protest of two of its former students.  The statue depicts a moment when gifted athletes were united during turbulent political times by way of a powerful statement.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove