MEXICO CITY, Mexico — A moment remembered as one of the most overtly political and powerful statements happened on an Olympic stage in Mexico City more than five decades ago.
The games were taking place only months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King was was shot and killed while standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. in April of that year. Vietnam war protests were also picking up.
Both Smith and Carlos wanted to use their platform to shine a spotlight on civil rights issues.
The two went to the podium shoeless, wearing black socks to represent Black poverty, wore beads to protest lynchings, and as the Star-Spangled Banner played, each raised a black-gloved fist to show support to Black people and oppressed people around the world.
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The reaction was swift and ugly. The pair were booed when the anthem ended and the International Olympic Committee president sent them home, saying they "breached the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit."
Back home, the pair faced abuse – even death threats. The action led to their athletic careers essentially ending.
The third man on the podium, Australian Peter Norman, wore a badge in support of Smith and Carlos. He also faced severe scrutiny when he returned to his home. He never competed in an Olympics again. When he died in 2006, both Smith and Carlos were pallbearers in the funeral
Smith is now a public speaker and Carlos is a retired track coach. Now in their mid 70s, both remain committed to raising awareness to human rights issues and helping others break barriers.