Smith and Carlos Part Two
I asked in my last post (to those who were old enough to remember) what they thought of the actions of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.....then and now. For those who weren't alive or haven't heard about the controversy, Smith and Carlos each wore a black glove and raised their fists at the medal ceremonies for the 200 meters that summer. They also wore black socks with no shoes. This protest was to bring attention to the ongoing struggle for civil rights back in the USA. The Internationl Olympic Commitee told the USA representatives that the US track team would not be allowed to continue to compete unless Smith and Carlos were removed from the team, so both runners were kicked off the team and sent back to the States. As you might guess, these two athletes were not perceived as heroes coming home by a lot of the country. Most viewed it as unpatriotic and selfish at best, treasonous at worst. Both Smith and Carlos received death threats. I'm sure I am leaving out quite a bit of information, but I think this pretty much covers the basics.
As an impressionable 12 year old in the deep south, I didn't really understand what was going on. I just remember a lot of folks being upset. Seems like there was a LOT to be upset about in 1968. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War were three things that Americans were dealing with that year. There also were riots going on in major cities across the country, riots concerning the very thing Smith and Carlos were raising their fists about......civil rights. Remember, I am in Alabama where George Wallace had called for segregation for eternity. His wife, Lurleen, had taken his place as Governor of Alabama because he was ineligible to run again......and she had just died that May from cancer. To top it all off, there was a Presidential election coming in November.....and it was as crazy an election season as this one is. Controversy ruled the day. In that context, I am trying to figure out what these great track stars are doing, and why? I'm also trying to understand why most of the people I know are mad at them. I had just recently finished the 6th grade under the FIRST black teacher in the Sheffield City school system.......Mrs Feagin. She was a wonderful teacher, and I loved her very much. I was wondering how she felt about all of this protest stuff. I had never heard a racially motivated sentence come out of her mouth. She had us say a Bible verse first thing every morning (remember, this was PUBLIC school) and then she got on with the business of teaching us the three R's. Now knowing the context better of what all was going on in those days, I have even MORE respect for Mrs. Feagin than I did as a skinny 12 year old. She was one special woman! I'm pretty sure she is passed away by now, and I wish I had been intentional about telling her how much I appreciate what she did and the things she went thru that I'm sure none of us knew about.
But back to Smith and Carlos. Is there ANYTHING you perceive the same way after 40 years? Safe to say, not much huh? Maybe your sports loyalties or some religious beliefs. But events and happenings.......that's a different animal all together. Because of that fact, most people don't see the 68 protest by Smith and Carlos in the same light as they did back then. I sure don't. I don't know that I was necessarily mad at them, but at the time I for sure was not in favor of what they did. Today, I hope I understand a lot better why they did what they did, and appreciate the courage it took to stand up in front of the whole world and protest the fact that civil rights were being denied because of race. They paid a big cost for their actions, and probably are still paying 40 years later. If you get a chance, read the recent Sports Illustrated article about these two men and how the events of that summer night affected their lives. I respect those two men for standing against injustice in such a way to cause people to stop and think. And 40 years later, we're still working thru it.