FILE PHOTO 1968
When Tommie Smith, center and John Carlos made their non-violent protest in Mexico City 39 years ago, it sent shockwaves around the world. Smith, who remains active in humanitarian causes, will speak at Iolani School tomorrow.
Symbol of the Times
A protest gesture by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics became a milestone in the civil rights movement
STORY SUMMARY »
The nuances were subtle but so powerful.
Tommie Smith was not a member of the radical Black Panthers, whose trademarks included black gloves and the "Black Power Salute."
In 1968, what should have been a celebration of a world record in the 200 meters and a gold-bronze showing by American sprinters was anything but.
Smith and John Carlos stood on the Olympic podium after receiving their medals on a dark October night in Mexico City. Heads bowed as "The Star-Spangled Banner" was being played, Smith raised his right first, Carlos his left.
The two shared a pair of black gloves and what would become one of the memorable moments of the civil rights movement. It was a silent protest against racism and historical mistreatment.
Smith is the featured speaker Monday at the Iolani School chapel as part of the Iolani Peace Institute's lecture series. The event is at 7 p.m. and free.
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IT'S a photograph that forever remains imprinted on America's psyche. Two African-American athletes, each raising a first, clad in a black glove, a silent protest that spoke volumes and echoed throughout the world.
» 7 p.m. tomorrow.
» Iolani School chapel
» Admission: Free
Few remember Tommie Smith as a track superstar who held 11 world records simultaneously.
Those of a certain generation can never forget the image of Smith and teammate John Carlos on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, eyes closed and heads bowed during the Star-Spangled Banner, a non-violent statement considered a milestone in the civil rights movement.
That event, which occurred 39 years ago last month, resulted in Smith, the gold-medalist in the 200 meters, and Carlos, who finished third, being banned from the Olympic village, vilified and praised globally.
It's still fresh in the mind of Smith, who will lecture tomorrow night at the Iolani School chapel, part of the Iolani Peace Institute lecture series.
"It's a great feeling that I'm still alive and able to tell the story," Smith said in a telephone interview with the Star-Bulletin last week. "I'm happy to be coming to Hawaii. I have not been back since competing there in the 1960s."
Smith's appearance has been in the works for about three years, according to Peter Greenhill, an Iolani teacher and co-director of the Iolani Peace Institute. Greenhill, who teaches a "Literature of Sports" class, has a poster of the 1968 event on his classroom wall.
"I found what he did so inspirational," Greenhill said. "To take a stand on moral issues, speaking with silence. The image is one of the most indelible of the past 50, 60 years.
"I look at that poster every day. Not too many people have done something that brave. It wasn't easy. He paid the price. But his involvement with human rights transcends even his athletic accomplishments."
Smith, a two-star athlete at San Jose State, went on to play professional football for the Cincinnati Bengals. He was a wide receiver for three seasons, giving up the sport after breaking his shoulder.
He lists the late Bill Walsh among his favorite people and biggest influences, "a great coach, a great human being," Smith said.
Smith, who holds a masters degree in sociology and an honorary doctorate degree in humane letters from SJSU, remains active in humanitarian and athletic causes. His illustrious career as a coach and educator includes stints at Oberlin and Santa Monica colleges and with USA Track and Field.
Smith was the subject of the 1999 HBO documentary "Fists of Freedom." The French government has named a sports complex in his honor. He also recently completed his autobiography, entitled "Silent Gesture."
There is a sculpture at San Jose State of that 1968 podium ceremony featuring Smith, Carlos and Peter Norman, the silver medalist from Australia who wore the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in sympathy. Their protest was not the only one of that Olympics but was the only one done while a national anthem was played.
Asked if he had discussed his protest intentions with U.S. coach Payton Jordan beforehand, Smith said no.
"It was a personal decision," Smith said. "Each athlete represented themselves."
And no, his medal was not taken away.
He continues his involvement with the Olympic movement, recently returning from Beijing, site of next summer's Olympic Games. Smith also is not happy with the recent drug scandals in sports, particularly the latest one involving Olympian Marion Jones.
"She had God-given talent, knew what she was doing, and is paying the price," Smith said. "The truth shall set you free and she should have told the truth from the beginning."