This powerful image first snagged up my attention as a youth when I flipped through a magazine and BRRAAP!- it shat, and has imprinted my imagination for decades. Though I couldn't overstand all the symbolism and implications when I was younger, I felt the power of rebellion exploding from the expression caught in time. Without knowing the fullness, the Black fists raised in salute pounded an impression in my psyche that I will always identify with, truss mi. And as I grew, I deciphered the symbolism embedded in the image, like narrative scribed in hieroglyphics. When I began seriously writing, it was only then that I fully comprehended the strength packed, loaded and framed in this moment.
For those like me who never even born when this incident tek place, it was at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City during the 200 meter track medal ceremony. In the middle is the winner of the event, Gold Medalist Tommy Smith (USA) and on the right is Bronze Medalist John Carlos (USA). The man on the left is Silver Medalist Peter Norman (Australia).
This action screamed REVOLT for many reasons. The first thing is that political statements are a big NO-NO at the Olympics. Next thing, we talking bout the 60's, the era of the Civil Rights Movement, world wide Black discontent, protests and riots, from L.A. to Detroit to Sharpeville, South Africa. Remember it was the in the Sixties when His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie declared that "Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited..." AND, don't forget, the Bredren were wearing the good ole USA akkkross their chests and representing the land of their birth; yet, they still identified with and declared solidarity with The Struggle of The People.
The Brothers stepped on the podium with their black-socked feet , symbolizing the poverty of Black people in America. Tommie, from Texas, draped a black scarf around his neck that stood for Black pride. John Carlos, a Cuban American from Harlem, wore beads that represented "those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage."
When the Brothers raised their fists in Black Power Salute it was an act of total defiance and a statement of protest against a system that oppressed Black people. (Tommie later declared in his autobiography Silent Gesture that it was a human rights salute)
I must note that Peter Norman, the Australian, stood in protest with Brothers and all three of them wore the badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). Norman had been outspoken against Australia's White Australia Policy so he empathized with Tommie and John, even suggesting that they each wear one of Tommie's glove after John had forgotten to bring his own pair to the track.
Well yuh done know, the backlash from the statement was tremendous. The Brothers were suspended from the USA Olympic Track Team. Upon returning home, they received death threats from good ole Americans.
Tommie Smith said, "If I win, I am American, not a Black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."
And overstand we did, Bredren. I think Black people the world over felt you. I give thanks.
How many of us would've had the dignity and courage to express ourselves on the world stage in such a way that would possibly affect our very livelihood?