Feature

The Olympian who raised a black power salute

John Carlos paid a heavy price for his act of protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.

John Carlos paid a heavy price for his act of protest, said Gary Younge in The Guardian (U.K.). At the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, sprinter Carlos and his U.S. teammate Tommie Smith raised their fists in a black power salute after winning bronze and gold medals in the 200-meter dash. The gesture, says Carlos, was meant to tell the world that “just because we have USA on our chest does not mean everything is peachy keen” for blacks in America. He vividly remembers the stadium going quiet as he lifted his arm. “You could have heard a frog piss on cotton. There’s something awful about hearing 50,000 people go silent, like being in the eye of a hurricane.” The men were expelled from the Olympics and suspended from the U.S. team. Back in America, few people would employ Carlos, and his marriage collapsed under the pressure. “When there’s a lack of money, it brings contempt to the family.” As the backlash waned, Carlos was invited back into the Olympic fold, helping to organize the Los Angeles games in 1984. But he insists his radicalism didn’t die with re-admission to the Olympic family. “The image [of the salute] is still there,” he says. “So many people find inspiration in that portrait. That’s what I was born for.”

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