10/17 17:27 CDT Smith, Carlos set fear aside as they raised their fists
Smith, Carlos set fear aside as they raised their fists
By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
Tommie Smith and John Carlos insist fear was not a factor in their thinking
when they reached the medals stand at the Mexico City Olympics.
The sprinters, discussing their black-gloved protest at the 1968 Games, said
the threats they had received in the lead-up to the Olympics, to say nothing of
what they'd experienced growing up in segregated America, left them numb to the
possibility of something else happening when they raised their fists after
finishing first and third in the 200 meters on Oct. 16, 1968.
"My thoughts were, once you make the statement, whether you live or die, they
can never take the statement away," Carlos said.
Smith and Carlos were part of a panel discussion Wednesday at their alma mater,
San Jose State, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their iconic protest at
the Mexico City Games.
"When they got on the victory stand, we were wondering, what are they going to
do?" said panelist Wyomia Tyus, the two-time women's 100-meter Olympic
champion, who dedicated her 1968 relay gold medal to Smith and Carlos. "When
the national anthem started and they did this, the stadium got completely
quiet. It was eerie. No one was saying anything. You could hear people talking,
hear people booing, hear people whistling, hear people cheering.
"I thought, I hope nothing happens to them.'"
While there was no violence, Smith and Carlos were sent home by the U.S.
Olympic Committee the next day, not to be fully welcomed back into the fold
until only a few years ago.
"The real fear was that there was no room for expression," said Paul Hoffman, a
rower who was part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, the movement led by
sociologist Harry Edwards that sparked the Mexico City protest.
Smith said by the time he arrived in Mexico City, the issue had "gone beyond
fear for me."
"My interest was the quietness," he said. "And, I've said this before, but it
was very sad, nationally, that two young black athletes had to do what they
were doing to bring attention to the (issues) in our country. We had to
sacrifice to prove a point. We were vilified because we had to do this."
Though neither runner had publicly previewed what he going to do after winning
his medal in the 200 meters, Carlos said he anticipated the stunned silence
that did, in fact, envelop the stadium. In a year in which two American leaders
--- Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy --- had already been assassinated,
Carlos had some bone-chilling words of advice for his friend before they walked
out for the national anthem.
"I said, 'We're trained to listen to the gun,'" Carlos said. "When we go out
and do what we do, everyone's going to be in shock. Everyone became deadly
silent. I said: 'Tommie, if they're going to shoot, they're going to shoot in
that void. Listen to the gun. We've been trained.' Fortunately, God got us