Remembering Human Rights Salute by Tommie Smith, John Carlos, at 1968 Olympics

Today, March 21, is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This year’s theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was chosen to highlight the problem of racism in sports, which remains a disturbing occurrence in many parts of the world, as well as to raise awareness of the role sports can play in combating racism and racial discrimination.[1]

Sports can also provide platforms to raise awareness of human rights and racial discrimination issues.

During the historic 19th Olympiad held in Mexico City, in the summer of 1968, Tommie Smith broke the world and Olympic records with a time of 19.83 seconds and became the 200-meter Olympic champion.[2]

As the Star Spangled Banner echoed in the wind, at the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the victory podium, draped with their Olympic medals, each raised a clinched fist, covered in a black leather glove in a historic stand for human rights, liberation and solidarity.

This courageous, unexpected worldwide event propelled Tommie Smith into the spotlight as a human rights spokesman, activist, and symbol of African American pride at home and abroad. Cheered by some, jeered by others, and ignored by many more, Tommie Smith made a commitment to dedicate his life, even at great personal risk, to champion the cause of oppressed people.

The story of the “silent gesture” is captured for all time in the 1999 HBO TV documentary, “Fists of Freedom”.

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