People a little older than me (I was 3 at the time) will remember the "black power salute"
, one of the most famous photographs in sports history. In the 1968 Olympic Games
in Mexico City, while the national anthem played during the awards ceremony of the men's 200-meter run, gold medalist Tommie Smith
and bronze medalist John Carlos
stood with their heads bowed, each with a black-gloved fist held straight up. Smith raised his right fist to represent black power, Carlos his left to represent black unity, and both had taken off their shoes and just wore black socks to represent black poverty. The silver medalist, Peter Norman from Australia, wore a pin on his sweat jacket as a show of unity. Smith and Carlos were sent home from the games as a result of their stand, and were harassed and threatened when they got back to America.
Well, that was 1968. As years went by, more and more people saw their stand in a more positive light, understanding that they were saying, in a dignified way, that it was not right for Black Americans to be given equal treatment only when convenient for the country, such as in war or in sports, but treated as second class citizens otherwise. So by 2005, Smith and Carlos tend to be viewed as heroes more than anything else, and heroes overdue for recognition at that.
As it turns out, both Smith and Carlos (and Lee Evans, who won gold in the 400-meter run that year, and participated with them in their planning of "the stand") went to San Jose State University, and a few years ago a student there learned about their story and thought the university should do something to commemorate their stand. It took a few years, but last night (37 years and 1 day after their courageous stand), there was a ceremony on campus at San Jose State, with Smith, Carlos, Norman and Evans all in attendance, where a 20-foot statue was unveiled. I was on hand for the event, and took some pictures.
In the cropped picture above, Carlos is on the left in the bluish suit with the white goatee, Smith is on the right in the greenish suit, Norman is standing behind Carlos' left shoulder, and Evans is standing behind Smith's left shoulder; San Jose Vice Mayor Cindy Chavez is presenting them with an award. In the uncropped version of the picture, you can see how big the (still veiled) statue is.
The statue, seen unveiled, is magnificent. The skin and hair and socks are bronze, while the sweat suits are ceramic tiles. Norman's spot on the dais was intentionally left empty, to make the statue interactive, so people could pose "taking a stand".
I think I was about 7 when I first learned about "the stand", probably during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. I remember thinking that they must have been very brave. As I got older, and eventually ran track in high school and college myself, I came to think of them more as heroes, the ultimate in track: winning a gold medal and doing something noble with one's moment of glory. It is hard to put into words how uplifting it was to see these heroes in the flesh, and to hear them speak. Smith and Carlos both credited God for helping them get thru their trying times and both urged the young people present at the ceremony to take a stand and do what's right. Amen, brothers.