Black power brokers

Burhan Wazir recalls the raised fist protest on an Olympic podium

The World Today Published 27 September 2018 Updated 9 November 2020 2 minute READ

Burhan Wazir

Editor, Coda Story

In October 1968, during the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, stepped up to the podium to receive their medals for the 200-metres final. Smith had won the gold in 19.83 seconds, a world record which would stand unbeaten until 1979. Carlos was accepting the bronze; another athlete, the Australian Peter Norman, took the silver.

On the podium, Smith and Carlos, who were both members of an organization called the Olympic Project for Human Rights which drew attention to issues of racism in society and sport, wore black scarves and one black glove each. All three athletes wore human rights badges. After receiving their medals, Smith and Carlos raised their gloved hands, fists clenched. Both kept their heads bowed during the national anthem and the raising of the US flag. Smith later said the gesture was not a ‘black power’ salute, but a ‘human rights salute’.

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