The Black Power Salute

Written by Anita Komugisha

Dr. Martin Luther King had been killed earlier that year, and we were in some sort of turmoil with the racial tension that came from having yet another black leader assassinated. So when the 16th of October, 1968 came, nothing prepared us for the events that followed in the Olympics held in Mexico.

First and foremost, two of our black American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, won the gold and bronze for the 200m respectively.

“I’ve got to say, that sounds like the highlight of the evening Grandma, what more would one need other than having two African Americans not only participate in the Olympics but also win in an era where blacks were suffering from so much loss as you said,” May be noted.

“ You are right dear, while we were overjoyed by their wins, it’s what they did after that left us in awe, ” Grandma remarked.

When they got to the podium to receive their medals, they had no shoes on and were clad in black socks to represent black poverty. Smith had a black scarf to represent black pride and Carlos had a bead necklace to remember people that had been lynched.

Carlos also unzipped his jacket to signify his working roots and both wore black gloves to signify strength and unity in addition to wearing the “Olympic Project For Human Rights”, badge.

This same badge was worn by silver medalist Australian Peter Norman, who had told them earlier when he learned of their plans that he would stand with them. He indeed stood with them, for when he learned that Carlos had forgotten his gloves, he suggested that Tommie and Carlos share the one pair of gloves they had.

They had us at the edge of our seats with anticipation. You should have seen what happened when the American anthem was sung!!!!!!

They bowed their heads and raised their black-gloved fists to signify their support and solidarity with black people in the world. That has come to be known as the “Black Power Salute”.

This was of course not well received by several people as they were given forty-eight hours to leave Mexico. But to the black community, they were awarded a hero’s welcome.

As one of the letter writers to David Burghley said, “these young men understood that justice and brotherhood are the only gold medal worth having, and they had the courage to stand up and say so.” Tomorrow I’ll tell you about Simone Biles, a gymnast who too, took a stand of her own.


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