1968′s Silent gesture
1968′s Mexico Olympic Games were no ordinary event. Besides all the World class sporting action that took place and that always amazes people, those Games would be remembered for political/activist reasons, as the Games of the “Black salute” or “Silent Gesture”.
In 1968, racial segregation was still in place in the U.S.A and despite the black superiority in many sporting events (especially in Track and Field), in their homeland black people in general were still being humiliated and considered inferior. So, what happened in 16th October 1968 was remarkable: American black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos dominated the 200 meters track event, taking respectively first and third place, in a winning time that represented a new World record. But the most important fact about it was not the winning time, but what followed. In the victory ceremony, Smith and Carlos went to the podium wearing black gloves, shoeless, with their heads low and silently raised their black gloves, symbolizing their prayer for humanity and against the poverty and discrimination they felt in their homeland. This act represented a powerful message against racism and a clear example of a non-violent demonstration of power and righteousness.
Both Smith and Carlos were involved in an organization called OPHR (Olympic Project for Human Rights), that was involved in activism through sports and another important aspect of that day was that second place holder, Australian Peter Norman, who was also a critic of racist laws in Australia, in demonstration of support to Smith and Carlos, wore a badge of OPHR during the ceremony, in respect to the cause.
However, this act of defiance and boldness from the two Americans was not forgotten and they were immediately suspended and sent back home. The reception in the U.S. was also negative and for the next few years they were persecuted, receiving trash mail and death threats, living far from a normal life. Due to his participation, Peter Norman was also left out of the 1972 Australian Olympic team.
In 2005, San Jose state University, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos studied and where the OPHR movement started, honored the two with a 22 foot (6.7 m) statue of the two of them in the podium. The second place was left empty in order for people to symbolically take a stand.
The “Black salute” is still to this day one of the most well known photographs against racial segregation in the U.S.A. and against racism worldwide. The image embodies the power of oppressed minorities and non-violent demonstrations of power and reasoning against tyranny. It represented a black salute but in the words of Tommie Smith himself it was more than that, it was a Human rights salute.