Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Fists That Never Fell

If an American pair took gold and bronze in the Olympics and set a world record, they would be celebrated (see Michael Phelps). There would be a parade in their hometown receiving the key to the city. The president would love to shake their hand. The country would recognize them as a champion.

That is unless they lived in 1968 and were black. Tommie Smith and John Carlos don't need to hear about it, they lived it.

On this day 40 years ago, during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, sprinters Smith and Carlos finished first and third, respectively, in the 200 meter race with Smith setting a world record of 19.83 seconds. As is tradition, the athletes went to receive their medals on a podium.

Not an Olympic tradition, Smith and Carlos did not wear shoes, only black socks. This represented the poverty of the black community. But this was not the most daring move.

Smith wore a black scarf to symbolize his black pride while Carlos unzipped the top of his jacket to show his solidarity with the blue collar workers of America. But this was not the most daring move.

Carlos even wore beads to remember those beaten and tarred and lynched. But this was not the most daring move.

During the national anthem and while on the medal stand, the duo bowed their heads, raised their arms and formed fists. They hoisted their fists to the sky, but at the same time, to their people. Their fists stood as pillars of strength, bravery, courage.

And although a fist is the size of an apple and weighs three pounds, these fists carried the hopes and dreams of an entire people.

Because of their gesture, Smith and Carlos were sent home from the Olympics by the U.S. Olympic Committee. They received death threats. They received praise. The were hated. They were loved.

But they were heroes.

Fellow Americans tried to lower the fists, but they stood tall never to be extinguished.

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