Originally, John Carlos and Tommie Smith planned to call for a boycott of the Olympics over the lack of Black coaches at the 1968 Olympics. But with a massacre in Mexico City happening 10 days before the opening of the games, the black-gloved fist was a “cry for freedom and for human rights,” as Smith said. Unfortunately, this gesture came with swift backlash. Smith and Carlos, whose mother grew up in Cuba, received suspensions from the U.S. team and death threats from angry spectators. The moment changed their lives. Carlos, for example, said a few years ago that the first 10 years after the ’68 Olympics “were hell” for him and that it affected his wife and kids as well. Now, more than 50 years later, Carlos and Smith will be inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.
“It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong,” Carlos told USA Today. “They’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.’”
As the years have passed, many have recognized why the first was so necessary. In 2005, for example, San Jose State dedicated a statue to them. And they even visited the White House with U.S. Olympians in 2016.