Stand up for what's Right

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.

award ceremony

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.

statue

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.

Comments:

Eventually, those who stand up for justice get the recognition that they deserve. As an Australian, I'm really pleased that Peter Norman wore that pin --- the concept of "a fair go for every person" is deeply entrenched.

Posted by James McPherson on August 31, 2006 at 07:06 PM PDT #

Peter Norman's nephew, film-maker Matt Norman is about to release the exclusive feature film about what happened during that time. www.theactorscafe.com/salute or www.salutethemovie.com

Posted by guest on September 09, 2006 at 12:14 PM PDT #

Thanks, Jeff, for the wonderfull photos and words. Yes, Sport is that one, great level playing field where Truth finally gets its chance to rise. I was too young to watch/comprehend Mexico-'68, but I watched all of Munich-'72, and Spitz' seven gold medals in swimming. The Olympics have captivated me ever since. (I swim on a Masters team in Austin, TX, and there are several Olympians who train at our pool, including this year's Olympic coach... ...so I'm reminded daily of the dedication it takes to perform at that level... what a privilege to get to watch them !).

Posted by andrew on November 26, 2007 at 12:55 AM PST #

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