A seven-meter sculpture commemorating the 1968 Mexico City Olympics Black power protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos will be unveiled at San Jose State University in California Monday, The Associated Press reports.
The pair, who had been teammates at the then-San Jose State College, was scheduled to be present at Monday's ceremony along with second-place Australian Peter Norman.
Smith, who had won the 200 meters gold medal in world record time, and Carlos, who placed third, bowed their heads and raised one black-gloved hand each in the Black power salute on the victory podium while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.
Smith told Reuters that he raised his right fist to represent Black power, while Carlos's left fist represented unity in Black America. A black scarf around Smith's neck stood for Black pride and their black socks with no shoes represented Black poverty in the United States.
Badges of courage
They bowed their heads, saying they believed the words of freedom in the U.S. anthem represented White Americans only, and wore a badge representing the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
Silver medalist Norman told Reuters that he knew about the plan.
“They involved me in the conversation,” he said. “It wasn't a secret huddle, they were letting me know.
“I said to John: 'You got another of those badges?' 'If I get one will you wear it?' he asked. 'I sure would,' I replied.”
The International Olympic Committee was outraged, threatening to expel the U.S. team if Smith and Carlos were not sent home.
The U.S. Olympic Committee complied and the duo was sent home. On their return to the United States they were treated as outcasts and struggled to earn a living. Both their marriages broke up and Carlos's wife committed suicide.
‘I feel like a survivor’
“We were under tremendous economic stress,” Carlos told Reuters. “I took any job I could find. We had four children and some nights I would have to chop up our furniture and make a fire in the middle of the room.”
Smith eventually found a job as a track coach and Carlos was hired by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to help promote the 1984 Games.
“I don't feel embraced,” Carlos said. “I feel like a survivor. I was almost like we were on a deserted island. But we survived.”
Norman said he is proud to have been associated with the protest. “It's a life-changing experience that is still held up, not just as a moment in sport but as a moment in American history,” he said.