African American History. 20th Century Topics In African American Identity Creation

6575 words - 26 pages

The 1968 Olympic Protests and the New Black IdentityThe 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City came at a time when there was great political turmoil throughout the world. In the United States, the ongoing Civil Rights Movement, by this time characterized by the growing strength of the Black Power Movement, saw the permeation of athletes into the political sphere of society. The 1968 Olympics proved to be the perfect platform for which black athletes could demonstrate their place in the American sphere of politics. It was here where Smith and Carlos performed what can be classified as the culmination of the black athletic mobilization. The years of meetings and discussions that had occurred between black athletes and other leading political figures led to the now famous events in Mexico City. After winning the 200 meter dash in what was then a world record 19.8 seconds, Tommie Smith and his fellow American runner John Carlos, who finished a close third, reached the medal stand adorned in black socks and a shared pair of black gloves. As the national anthem played, the two men bowed their heads and defiantly raised their closed fists for the duration of the anthem. The stadium fell to a quiet hum. Carlos described the scene colorfully, "The American people in the stands were shocked to silence. One could hear a frog piss on cotton it was so quiet in the stadium." With the eyes of the world watching their silent protest, Smith and Carlos demonstrated what had been a culmination of athletes challenging the status quo of politics and equality.The permeation of civil rights into athletics was an example where the Black Liberation Movement gained a stronghold in the United States toward the latter half of the 1960s. It was during this time that athletes entered into the political world of discussion in which many challenged the social hierarchy of American society. Prior to this time, athletes had not played a central figure in challenging the norms of society. This began to change during the 1960's as athletes organized themselves to fight the prejudices that they encountered. Athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Lew Alcindor, and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos challenged the repression that athletes and blacks in general faced when attempting to attain equality in the United States. Using their position in society as popular athletes, these men were able to engage in discourse regarding what they viewed to be a hypocritical and exploiting means of using African Americans to attain glory for American society. Arguably, the height of the Black Freedom Movement in athletics occurred during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos, moments after placing first and third respectively in the 200 meter dash, defiantly raised their fists in protest of what they claimed to be "human rights." Their protest was met with sharp criticism from sports writers across the United States and the two athletes were eventually expelled from the...

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