Win and you’re American…lose and you’re a Negro.

Remember the Olympic Black Power salute? If not, here’s what basically happened. In protesting human rights abuses, of black people particularly, Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black gloved fists during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.

 

The 3rd gentleman (the white athlete) on the podium was Australian Peter Norman. Like Smith and Carlos, Norman (a critic of Australia’s White Australia Policies) wore a human rights badge on his shirt to show his support for Smith and Carlos’ ideals.

 

Tommie Smith had won the 200m race in a world record time with Norman and Carlos in 2nd and 3rd respectively. When receiving their medals, Smith and Carlos were shoeless and wearing black socks to represent black poverty. Tommie Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride while Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. He also 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.”

 

Smith and Carlos had planned on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his in the Olympic Village. It was Peter Norman who suggested Carlos wear Smith’s left-handed glove. That’s why Carlos is raising his left hand, as opposed to his right, as is the traditional Black Power salute.

 

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.

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