14 October 2021


14 October 2021


Maison French Deal would like to highlight personalities, stories and historical facts of Black Culture. Through this article, we invite you to discover the history of this famous photo taken during the 1968 Olympic Games.

The Olympic Games in Mexico City (Mexico), celebrated in October 1968, were strongly marked by various political events. The assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis (United States) five months earlier had notably raised the revolt against racial segregation in the United States. This struggle was represented by the actions of African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

On October 16, 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos finished first and third in the 200 meters. The two athletes won gold and bronze medals respectively in the competition.

The next day, they stood on the podium in black socks without shoes with their medals around their necks for the raising of the U.S. flag and the American anthem. As the anthem sounds, the two athletes lower their heads and each raise a black gloved fist and hold it up until the end of the anthem, before the eyes of the world. This gesture of revolt denounces racial discrimination in the United States. This historical moment is also marked by the support of the silver medalist athlete, Australian Peter Norman. Like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, he wears a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization fighting against racial segregation, on his jacket. The scandal was immediate.

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, declared that a protest about a country’s domestic politics has no place in a non-political event such as the Olympic Games. In response to their action, the two American athletes were banned from the Olympic Village the next day. They were also suspended and banned from competing for life. Australian athlete Peter Norman will also be banned by his country.

Following this action, Tommie Smith and John Carlos received death threats against them and their family. They were not recognized until decades later with their induction into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978 and 2003, their induction into the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2008, and their invitation to the White House by President Barack Obama in 2016.

More than fifty years later, the gesture and the photo taken during this event remain strong symbols of the fight against racial discrimination.


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