More than 40 years after John Carlos and Tommie Smith—the U.S. bronze and gold medal winners in the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City—raised their fists in a black power salute on the Olympic podium, the iconic image still induces goose bumps. Carlos and Smith planned the statement in solidarity with the Civil Rights movement as a way to protest the racism and poverty afflicting so many African Americans in the United States, and they paid dearly for having a political conscience in a supposedly apolitical and commercialized sports world.
The two men were ordered suspended from the team by the International Olympic Committee and ultimately expelled from Mexico. On their return to America, ostracized from the professional sports world, Carlos and Smith received death threats and had a hard time finding jobs to support their families. In a television interview, Carlos stood by his actions, saying, "We were trying to wake the country up and wake the world up!"
Carlos tells his tale in The John Carlos Story, the 2011 book co-written with firebrand sports editor of The Nation Dave Zirin. An activist to this day, the champion track athlete is a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights and was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2003.
Carlos is on a speaking tour coinciding with the book's publication, and the SRJC Black Student Union and the NAACP of Sonoma County host an evening with John Carlos on Saturday, May 18, in the Bertolini Student Center, room 4608. 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 4pm. $50. 707.527.4647.