This post was written by Monica Valentine, Program Specialist in the Library’s Center for Literacy, Learning and Engagement
1968 was a turbulent year. Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and protest movements echoed across the world. The summer Olympics in Mexico City were no exception to this backdrop. During the medal ceremony, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos planned another protest—one that would be seen as iconic for years to come. Later this month, Dr. Tommie Smith is releasing a graphic memoir for young readers ages 10+. Join us virtually or in-person next Tuesday, September 20, at 7 P.M. for Victory. Stand! A Legendary Act of Protest with Dr. Tommie Smith, a conversation with the team behind the book.
Smith and Carlos were student-athletes from San Jose University who won gold and bronze medals for the 200-meter race. But on the medal platform, they appeared shoeless in black socks and black gloves. Their jackets displayed pins supporting the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization that protested for the end of racism in sports and across the world. Smith and Carlos each raised a single gloved fist as the national anthem played. The third athlete on the podium that day was the silver medalist, Australian Peter Norman. He wore a borrowed badge in solidarity.
The fallout was immediate and intense. Smith and Carlos were expelled from the games and later ostracized by the U.S. sports establishment. Their families received hate mail and death threats. Smith insisted that their actions were misinterpreted as support of Black separatism. He said the protest was instead about fighting for human rights for Black people on a global scale, including in the U.S. and South Africa. Over time, perception of this event changed. In November 2019, Smith and Carlos were inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.
Dr. Tommie Smith collaborated with award-winning author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Dawud Anyabwile on the book, which tells this story. Next Tuesday, they will be in conversation with community activist and MahoganyBooks store co-owner Ramunda Lark-Young. The event requires free tickets, available here. The panel will discuss their writing and illustration process, the impact of the protest on Dr. Smith’s life, and how over time the act of protest has been reassessed.
If you are planning to watch their conversation online or in-person, prepare for the discussion by exploring Library of Congress resources with your family.
In addition, an oral history interview with Smith’s Olympic teammate and protest partner John Carlos is part of the Library’s Civil Rights History Project. Watch from 1:27:06 to about 1:30:41. In this snippet, Carlos recounts meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shortly before Dr. King’s assassination. Carlos asked him for his thoughts about a planned boycott of the Olympics and other protests in sports. Ask your children to identify what Dr. King compared the Olympic Project for Human Rights to. How is this different or similar to civil rights protests of today?
We hope to see you live or in-person on Tuesday, September 20 at 7 P.M.!