Time fails to extingush fire of Black Power Salute

 Fo-rty--four years after American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos electrified the Mexico City Olympics with their heads-bowed, arms-raised civil rights protest, they have no regrets about their controversial gesture.

Smith, the gold medallist in the 200 metres, and Carlos, the bronze medallist, were told to leave the Olympic village after the incident, which many viewed as a Black Power salute.

“I didn’t stand there as a black man and say I was solely concerned about black poverty in South-Central Los Angeles, or southern Mississippi. I thought about people of colour around the world who have the same type of poverty,” Carlos, 67, said.

Only a few months before the 1968 Olympics, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis and the US was thrown into racial turmoil. The photographs of Smith and Carlos standing with black-gloved arms raised have become an icon of the civil rights period. 

“Just that picture alone gives so much strength to individuals that had no strength. It gives them courage that they didn’t know they had,” Carlos said.

Carlos said the country has not yet overcome the racism he and Smith were protesting.

“It gave America an opportunity to see that the problems that I’ve been fighting against are not dead, they’re still running rampant,” said Carlos.

Tommie Smith, 68, during a trip to London earlier this month said that he viewed the Olympic platform was appropriate for his 1968 protest.

“It was so ideal that people viewed it as very negative and we were vilified because of it,” Smith said. “Them believing that the Olympic Games is only used for competition and no involvement in politics.

Whereas the Olympic Games was full of politics,” he said. Carlos agreed with that assessment. Growing up in New York, Carlos said he used to tag along as black nationalist leader Malcolm X went from one speaking engagement to the next.

These days, Carlos dodges the heat in Palm Springs, where the temperature goes well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. He drives his 1993 Cadillac to the door of the portable that is his office, so that when he leaves he can get behind the car’s tinted windows and stay cool. 

He once coached track athletes, but in recent years he has focused on his job as a counsellor.

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