Mexico 1968 Olympic gold medallist and salute protestor talks to FE & HE staff and students
11 July 2012
Olympic gold medallist and human rights activist Dr Tommie Smith, renowned for his black gloved protest salute on the victory podium at Mexico 1968, joined members of the Further and Higher Education sectors for a questions and answers session after the UK premiere of Salute.
Smith was in London to promote the release of the documentary-film, which tells the inside story of one of the most iconic moments ever in sport, and to promote Operation Black Vote, which seeks to address the lack of involvement of ethnic minorities in British politics.
The then San Jose State College student smashed the 200m world record with a time of 19.83 at the 1968 Games before risking his life and sacrificing what was certain to be a golden athletics career by protesting in front of a global audience against the treatment of black people in the USA.
The moment came to be known by many as the ‘Black Power Salute’ but Smith says this was not the case, preferring to call the gesture a ‘human rights salute’, a ‘cry for hope’ and a ‘victory stand’.
He stood on the podium alongside fellow USA teammate John Carlos, who won bronze, and Australia’s silver medallist Peter Norman. The three men made history by making a stand for human rights, liberation and solidarity in the middle of the tumultuous racial tension in the US and around the world.
After walking to collect their medals with no shoes to symbolise poverty and wearing beads to represent the lynchings of black Americans, both Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised their fists whilst Norman showed his support for the cause by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge.
Salute is a film by Matt Norman, the nephew of Peter Norman, demonstrating this symbolic moment in the history of the African-American civil rights movement and iconic Olympic moment.
The film was given its UK premiere at the University of Westminster’s Old Cinema theatre, which incidentally became the birthplace of British cinema with the first public show of moving pictures in the UK in 1896 – the same year as the first modern Olympic Games.
While at the event, which was organised by Podium, Smith spoke of his own college and academic experience, where he started his political journey. He said: “I didn’t start talking really until my senior year in college, and until the Olympic Project for Human Rights… I would much rather learn and then discuss, than discuss but learn that I had the outcome wrong in the first place.”
The one-off event saw Smith answering questions from the audience after the film screening (which you can watch by clicking on the link) as well as speeches from University of Westminster Vice-Chancellor Geoff Petts and Director of Operation Black Vote, Simon Woolley.
You can watch Podium’s exclusive interview with Dr Tommie Smith below.
By Ruth Faulkner
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