‘CNN podcast’ about the Civil Rights Movement –

Tommie Smith and John Carlos


Reporter I: Welcome to our today’s edition of the CNN podcast series about the Civil Rights Movement. Today we are reporting about the courageous act of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1986 Olympic Games in Mexico.

Reporter II: Tommie Smith, born in Texas on June 5, 1944 and Dr. John Carlos, born in New York exactly one year later, were not only intelligent students but also very talented athletes.

Tommie Smith’s biggest successes were in 1967 and 68 when he set new world records on 200 meters and 400 meters.

John Carlos had similar successes also in those years. After they became popular with sports, Carlos became a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights which organized a boycott of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Reporter I: After Smith set the world record over 200 meters and became the winner, Carlos made the third place. During the victory ceremony they made a silent protest against racial discrimination.

Standing on the podium they had their heads bowed, each of them raising one fist. They were wearing no shoes, but only black socks symbolising the poverty of the blacks. At their upheld fists, they were wearing black gloves. The right fist represents black power and strength, the left one stands for black unity. Moreover, Smith wore a black scarf expressing black pride.

Reporter II: On the one hand, some praised the men for their bravery, but on the other hand some condemned them. The International Olympic Committee felt that a political statement had no place in the international forum of the Olympic Games and said that this action disgraced all Americans.

As a result, Carlos and Smith were expelled from the Games and banned from further competitions. Once, Smith commented, “If I win, I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say “a Negro”. We are black and we are proud of being black.”

Reporter I: This event also had severe consequences on their private lives: In those days, Smith reported, “We are afflicted with additional discrimination because of our behaviour. Farmers have put dead rates and manure in the post and in response to this my mother died of a heart-attack. What is more, John Carlos had to chop up his furniture in order to have firewood. And his wife committed suicide because the life as an outcast was insufferable. We both have become infamous over night, so that we could not find any jobs.” Consequently, both played football for some seasons and became coaches of different sport teams.

Reporter II: As a final suitable quotation Dr. John Carlos said some weeks ago, “It doesn’t appear that we’ve learnt anything. Forty years have passed and we’re black in the same situation.” Carlos encouraged athletes to follow his example and “go with their hearts and minds”, if they wanted to make statements about human rights.

Reporter I: This was our today’s contribution to John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Thank you for your courage guys and thank you out there for listening. See you next week at the same time when we are reporting about the next key figures in the Civil Right Movement.

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