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The other fourtieth anniversary in Mexico

16 October 2008

Mention October 1968 and here we think “Tlatelolco”.  Outside Mexico, the image people remember is this one:

Tommie Smith said, on 16 October 1968:

If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.

Smith, now 64, was profiled in the Independent (U.K.) last Sunday:

“I don’t know what would have happened had I not won the gold medal,” he tells me. “And I had a pulled muscle, so I was not the favourite. But I did win, and John Carlos won bronze, with [the Australian] Peter Norman in second place. We were then escorted to a place known as ‘the dungeon’ to prepare for the medal ceremony, and that’s where John and I decided what we would do. Peter listened, but he didn’t have much to say because this was an American situation.”

Nonetheless, Norman lent his support by wearing an OPHR [Olympic Project for Human Rights] badge, unwittingly writing himself, too, into the history books. When he died, in October 2006, both Smith and Carlos were pall-bearers at his funeral. During the ceremony, however, all eyes were on the two Americans, who wore one black glove each. Smith had his right fist raised, Carlos his left. It was later claimed that Smith’s right fist denoted black power, with Carlos’s left fist representing black unity. The slightly less stirring truth is that the gloves were Smith’s, and they only had one pair between them.

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