The Story Behind the Most Historic Moment in Olympic History
The most memorable image from the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City happened during the medal ceremony when sprinters Tommie Smith raised his right fist and John Carlos raised his left fist as the United States’ national anthem blasted through the stadium. The two Black athletes forever went down in history at this moment.
However, there’s so much more to this controversial demonstration than people actually know, including the ugly aftermath. This is the story behind the most historic moment in Olympic history.
The Controversial Protest
After winning the 200-meter dash, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stepped onto the Olympic medalist podium to receive their gold and bronze medals. It seemed like any other award ceremony — until they bowed their heads and raised their black-gloved fists into the air. Their silent protest was a salute to Black power and unity. It also represented the injustice and inequality that African Americans have experienced throughout history. The pair also wore black socks instead of shoes onto the podium, an act that was meant to draw attention to poverty in Black communities.
The Eye-Opening Responses From Different Communities
The historic protest not only shocked the stadium’s audience, but it also shocked the world. For a moment, the crowd was silent — and then came the boos. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also denounced the act, calling it "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit." Smith and Carlos were immediately escorted out of the arena and banned from the Olympic Village. The U.S. track team suspended both athletes, and the IOC destroyed their Olympic careers.
The Legacy That Lives On
Carlos and Smith made a long-lasting impact in the U.S. and around the world, becoming internationally recognized icons during the Equal Rights and Black Power movements. Although the two received staggering hate at the time, they knew they made the right move. "I feel as proud today as I did that day. I'm just so happy that so many people have woken up to it today," Carlos said.