Feb. 24, 2006
By Art Spander
Special to CSTV.com from The Sports Xchange
Peaceful, so peaceful, the lawn of the
"They were worse than that," Harry Edwards remembered of a period long ago when politicians were gunned down and black athletes were threatened for their beliefs, "We were lucky to get out alive."
The luck was now with those who watched the unveiling of a statue to two men who, in the summer of 1968, threw the sporting world into chaos. Two men who, on an Olympics medal platform, raised gloved fists and, depending on one's viewpoint, raised either a lot of hell or a great many hopes.
Without Harry Edwards, now in his 60s, retired as a sociology professor at Cal Berkeley, still used as an advisor to the
Without Harry Edwards, Tommie Smith and John Carlos would not have become the seminal figures of what was called the Revolt of the Black Athlete.
The Mexico City Olympics were the games of thin air and heavy disenchantment. As Bob Dylan sang, the times they were a-changin'. The lassitude of the 1950s
Trouble was no more than an incident away.
Uneasiness lingered even as cheers erupted. Bob Beamon would set a world long jump record, with some of the credit awarded to
The question was, what next? The answer, as Harry Edwards pointed out, was "the signature event of the movement".
It took place after the 200 meters. Smith, son of a farm worker from Lemoore in
They were despised. They were respected. Now, they merely are remembered.
"Tommy Smith and John Carlos are role models for our students," said Don Kassing, president of
"I knew the sun would shine," said Carlos on the day the statue was dedicated, "I'm a survivor."
Thirty-eight years ago, 1968, and kids were sticking flower stems into the gun barrels of National Guardsmen in Berkeley and Madison. We were a year beyond the Summer of Love. We were trapped in a year of upheaval.
What happened after the 200 meters, after Smith set a world record, shouldn't have been a surprise. Edwards had organized the Olympic Project on Human Rights. In 1967, talk began of a boycott of the '68 Games, and at
"I didn't do what I did as an athlete," Carlos would explain. "I raised my voice in protest as a man."
In July 1968, Sports Illustrated headlined, "The Black Athlete - A Shameful Story." Two months later, previewing the games, SI wrote about "The Problem Olympics."
They were just that, with the altitude, riots and the response by Smith and Carlos when the opening bars of the
"Such a daring stance," said Dr. Ethel Pitts, from
"Such an outrageous stance", said Avery Brundage, the late head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who, after the incident, ordered Smith and Carlos stripped of their medals and sent home.
"They violated one of the basic principals of the Olympic Games," argued Brundage. "That politics play no part whatsoever in them."
The Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a "Nazi-like salute." Time Magazine showed the five-ring Olympic logo but with the words, "Angrier, Nastier, Uglier," instead of "Faster, Higher, Stronger".
The view is different now, so very different.
"History is funny," said Edwards. "It's one of the few realities in life that is clarified and comes into greater detail and perspective with distance. Everything else you see more, the closer you get to it.
"You go back and just look at the rhetoric and the kind of stuff that had to be part of an era in a world to get people's attention in a world where the definition was 'Blacks have made it in sport, now if the rest of society could just be like sport.' Well, we knew that wasn't the situation."
Smith said he didn't know until he walked into the tunnel toward the track what he and Carlos would do to protest. He grabbed gloves and beads, symbolic of Southern blacks being lynched. The two took off their shoes to reflect the poverty of blacks. The second-place finisher in the race, Peter Norman of
"Standing there, their hands raised," said Edwards, "is one of the most enduring images in sport."
Now, that image is depicted by a fiberglass statue covered with ceramic tiles.
"Phenomenal," said Harry Edwards.
Those who were around in 1968 could only agree.