Head held high, fist held higher

John Carlos; Celebrating 50 years since the silent protest that would become the voice for American minorities.

Kiana Glenn

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During the awards ceremony of the 1968 track and field Olympics, gold medalist-sprinter John Wesley Carlos did the unthinkable during the national anthem. He and his teammate, Tommie Smith, raised their right fists to stand against racial inequality- unknowingly creating a revolution whose actions would reverberate 50 years into the future.

“We were demonstrating bigotry, prejudice, bias, and mayhem. The only voice we had was through our endeavors on the athletic field,” Carlos said in an interview with online news channel AJ+. “We felt it was very necessary to go out there and make a statement that would be universal.” Carlos said.

Despite the racism he faced throughout his childhood, he kept his head held high and chose to see the positive in people.

“In order to get on that stand up there, in order to make any type of statement,  we still had to go through the process of elimination… we out there to trying to fight the evils of society, we still had to mandate our athletic abilities. Because no win, meant no representation.” Carlos said.

On October 16, 1968, in Mexico City, history was made. For the Track and Field Olympics, he took the gold medal in the 200 meter dash. During the awards’ ceremony, Carlos and his teammate, Tommie Smith, stepped up to the podium with several articles of clothing missing- and wearing several new ones.

“We took off our shoes, and wore nothing but black socks to show the poverty that was going through the south. We wore beads, and black scarves around our necks. We wore black shirts to cover up the American flag on our uniforms.”

“The black gloves were because we wanted to let them know who we were representing, we were representing black people of America and of the world. We represent the good part of black America right now.”

As the sound of the National Anthem blared through the loudspeakers, Carlos and Smith carefully lowered their heads in defiance, and raised their right, gloved fists towards the sky. The image was broadcasted on televisions worldwide. They had made a speechless statement that would become one of the most iconic images in Black history.

“We felt that it was our responsibility to shed a light on the illness of society. We wanted to wear our uniforms, and go to the Olympic Games and represent America. But at the same time, we felt that America wasn’t truly representing us.”

These Olympic Games just so happened to be the very first time the Olympics were broadcasted on international television. Citizens viewed it as a protest to America, and they failed to see what the action was actually protesting. In response, national Olympic committee president Avery Brundage ordered that Carlos and Smith be immediately suspended from the Olympic team and banned from the Olympic village.

“You had to qualify. And now that I am on the stand and have received my medal, and because you don’t like my politics or my views, you’re going to take my medal away? I had to remind them, that I had earned it.”

Even after all the backlash, the rage, and the hate from Americans, Carlos knew he had made the right decision. He had illuminated a beacon of hope, for those who had faced injustice in any kind of way.

“Regardless of what they might have thought about me putting my fist in the air, I love the stars and stripes. I love the stars and stripes, but I wanted the stars and stripes to love me.”

Despite the repercussions, Carlos did what he did to make people conscious of the problematic society. Africans Americans, other minorities, and under-class citizens that dealt with disadvantages that were inconspicuous to many Americans. His goal was to stand for the group that did not have hope, and give them something to stand for.


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