Black Power Salute


“‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ is the motto of the Olympic Games. ‘Angrier, nastier, uglier’ better describes the scene in Mexico City last week,” wrote Time Magazine, which went onto call it “petty” and “petulant”.  Boxer George Foreman dismissed it as “That’s for college kids.” Brent Musburger called them “black-skinned storm troopers”. “The Soviet Union never has used the Olympic Games for propaganda purposes,” came a statement from Moscow.

Forty years on, the raised clenched fists of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won first and third places respectively in 1968 Olympic Games remain controversial. The protest photos were now inevitably labeled “black power” instead of “civil rights” Inside the arena in Mexico City the event passed quite unnoticed, but the newspaper photos reprinted in the next few days spread the debate.

Most famous of these photos was the one distributed by AP, taken by John Dominis, in which ironically, the viewer could not really make out the black socks two runners wore nor that they were shoeless — both acts meant to represent black poverty. Carlos’ beads, symbolizing black lynchings, however, were prominent. They shared right and left hands of the same pair of gloves because Carlos had forgotten his pair at the Olympic village.

Pressured by the International Olympic Committee which frown upon such displays of political statements (and which back then was ironically headed by an American named Avery Brundage who had been a Nazi sympathizer in his day), the American Team sent the pair packing home. The US cynically allowed them to retain their medals so they could count against the Russians on the final scoreboard. The silver medalist Peter Norman (Australia) who joined in the protest with a Human Rights badge on his track suit was also ostracized on his return home.

As for Smith and Carlos, they are now estranged, each claiming he was the mastermind behind the protest. Carlos went so far as to state that he let Smith win.

36 thoughts on “Black Power Salute

    • It was a heroic moment and a defining one in the progress from the deeply racist past to one in which a black president sits in the White House.

  1. It was a statement of resistance against a deeply racist society. As such, and on a world stage, it was brave and bold – as was Norman’s gesture of solidarity.

  2. I need to say exactly what Dan and Nobdy above have said. You need to study recent American history and rethink your commentary. Study the stuggle for the America …that land that has never been but must be…” Study the sports scene in 1968. Study 1968 American life.

    Why are sports supposed to be insulated from the facts of life, then or now?

    it is hypocrisy to respectfully acknowledge the murder of Emmett Till and the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith on other pages and then ridicule the public stance against injustice of Tom Smith and John Carlos by other Americans because you think atheletes should “behave”.

    The difference between your words and Rush Limbaugh’s racist comments on sports are scant.

    Sorry, I have to leave your site now. Perhaps, when I return you will have found a way to enter into dialogue with those of us who have more experience with civil disobedience and/or can read the photos in a broader cultural context.

    (excerpt quote from Langston Hughes poetry)

  3. This blog has kept me entertained and been so informative all day.

    When I came to this entry, however, I had to double check a few times… I thought for sure the “petulant, petty, and political” comment was a quote from som magazine at the time… I had a hard time believing it was the view of this blog.

    I’d be proud if I were any of those athletes. It would be laughable to me if someone suggested I should take it back and apologize for my actions.

    What’s REALLY surprising is how many political, historic, and controversial photos have been covered in this blog from a very informative and neutral point of view… and then it’s THIS picture, of all pictures, which brings out this commentary which adds nothing to the entry and is not informative in the least.

  4. I completely agree with the above commenters.

    It’s as if someone other than the relatively neutral voice of the blog owner wrote this post entirely.

    It’s unfortunate that you decided to take one of the most iconic photos against racism and turn it into a commentary on, to not mince words as you have tried to do, “those unruly black people”. It’s shameful.

  5. agree with the above comments. How there stance could be judged as anything other than brave and justified is mystifying. They should be given medals for there stance, not medals taken away because of it…

  6. Wow, what an awful change in tone for this site. Does the author realize this was the year MLK was assassinated? Our country was boiling over with hate and inequality and this gesture symbolized so much and the author considers them ‘rightfully removed’? This carries the stench of the very least shameful ignorance. I won’t be reading any posts written by this contributor.

  7. What a fucking quintessential piece of shit this guy is. Tommie Smith was carrying an olive branch in that box as he honestly thought he would be shot on the podium for this. But I suppose in quintessential’s world he should have shut up and put up. Maybe he’d see the world a bit differently if it was him hanging from a tree surrounded by a dozen guys pulling his feet. As it is, he’s probably writing his stupid fucking ‘blog’ in a starbucks in Harlem, thinking how nice it is that the property bubble has meant that its only privileged pieces of vaginal discharge like himself that can afford the new condos there now, keeping anybody whos not white and middle class where he can’t see them. Fuck you.

    • Everyone knows most whites were racest years ago. Some blacks now are teaching hate of whites and hispanics Why? Racest white america is nearly dead. This will only fuel a racial war. That will not help anyone. I served in the US Army Engineering Corp with Hispanics, Black, White and Asian. We had a bond that went beyond history or skin color. People { any color }that hate dont need a reason to hate. They just do because it makes them feel good. Sick

  8. I would disagree with your use of the word “petulant” and “petty”. It was political, ,but not petty or petulant.

    Petty would be wearing a “Free Winona” t-shirt.

    Petulant would be complaining about the height of the podium.

    Please reconsider the wording you have chosen.

  9. “rightfully removed from the games”? I am so stunned. The US was in turmoil. I’m guessing this writer is a bigot.

  10. Readers may be interested to know that it was at Peter Norman’s suggestion that Smith and Carlos shared the gloves for their salute, because Carlos had forgotten his pair at the Olympic Village. For his outspoken support of racial equality in Australia and elsewhere, his country refused to send him to the 1972 Olympics. Both Carlos and Smith were pallbearers at his funeral in 2006. I think all three were brave, honourable men.

  11. I came back to this and just read the linked article from Time Magazine 1968… the words “petty” and “petulant” as well as the description of the events were all pretty much taken from the Time article. It’s amazing how a few decades changes perceptions so much.

    The way these summaries are written, however, it’s not at all clear when a source is being cited and when we are getting the posters’ views. I’ve noticed on a few other summaries that it was more or less copied (uncredited) from Wikipedia.

  12. Thanks to the contributing posts, viewers have learned more American history and may recognize the importance of attribution.

    Apparently, the blogger hasn’t deemed it necessary to show any evidence of learning.

    • I have just read the December posting this blogger wrote. He provides his reason for unmarked attribution: “To some it may be plagiarism, but come on, give me a break–This is not an academic project and i use up my freetime on here, and sometimes, it is hard to come by”. I relate to this writer’s statements in these two ways. One, too much of what occurs in this “easy” medium is unfinished work, exercise without practice. Two, most of these photographs are iconic and deserve better… thanks for archiving them and I hope some of the images will haunt his thoughts as the photographer intended.

      Thanks to the contributing posts for this photo, viewers have learned more American history and may recognize the importance of attribution.

  13. So THATS why thequintessential blogs (with horrible grammar and spelling) because his reputation and skill as a writer is well below the freezing point right into the negatives.

  14. this is the must racist dumb shit i have ever seen in my life take it down. you know no knowledge…go back to college

  15. It seems to be completely ok for people to voice opinions and call for change and have pride in their race etc….unless they are white. Then you are a bigot.

  16. Native American right here from the rez… Can’t stand blacks or latinos… but their music’s okay. Just stay out of our rez, and that goes for you Jews, too. Got enough shit here and we don’t need more of the white man’s ills in here.

    Oh and your black nationalism and latino pride? Fuck off. You’re just like the white man.


  18. I was nervous, even in a darkened room; I knew the spy cam was catching what we were doing. The guys decided between themselves, as if at a prearranged signal, to change positions. Kevin kneeled on the sofa, in front of me, his cock still dripping with my juices. I licked them off; enjoying the taste of my hairy pussy intermingled with his pre-cum, he watched intently, as if he was judging what else I might do for him.

  19. this blogger is fully entitled to any phrasing he/she wishes

    furthermore, black people have pressed for too much in this country, abusing the guilt that has been paid in full

    move on, stop looking at history and make your race worthy in the present times

    • J – “Move on and make your race worthy in the present times”; well, J, if you are white you do have a lot of moving on to go!

  20. “Both Smith and Carlos were rightfully removed from the Games but none of the three men ever recanted their stances”
    Rightfullt removed?? They won those medals fair and square. Why be removed because they made a statement? Thank God that many other black athletes follow in their footsteps to become the best sports men and women in the world.

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