Iconic Images – Olympics, Mexico City, October 17, 1968

InThePastLane.com                                                                            by Edward T. O’Donnell

Tommie Smith and John Carlos make the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos make the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Today in History – October 17, 1968 – African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their hands to make the Black Power salute during the medal awards ceremonies at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. They also wore no shoes to symbolize the poverty of black Americans and black beads to honor those who died at the hands of lynch mobs. These expressions of solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement sparked outrage from Olympic officials. They denounced the “politicization” of the Olympics, calling it “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit.” Many American politicians criticized the men for making the salute during the playing of the national anthem. Smith and Carlos were summarily expelled from the Olympic village. They returned to the U.S. to face harsh criticism and years of hostility from white Americans.
The charge that these tow men were guilty of politicizing the Olympics reflected the widely believed mythology that the Olympic Games had always operated outside of political influence. A quick look at the historical record (for example, the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany or the 1980 ice hockey game between the U.S. and Soviet Union) makes it clear that the Olympics have always been influenced by politics. Today this photo of the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics is considered by many Americans an iconic moment of courageous protest that marked the Civil Rights movement. And Smith and Carlos are properly regarded as important contributors to that movement.