Forgotten Heroes


As we fast approach the 50th anniversary of the iconic Olympic protest of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, one must ask, where are the tributes from black America? Where are the tributes, the awards, the acknowledgement from the leading African American organizations, e.g., the NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus, National Urban League? And one must ask, why have these brave, courageous men not been put in a place of honor alongside every other civil rights icon?

Surely, this is just an oversight, an error of omission, or is there another reason. One can only speculate.

In October of 1968 at the Olympics in Mexico City, two young black men representing the United States, in an act seen around the world, took to the medal stand and raised their black-gloved fists in silent protest. What were they protesting? The list of 400 years of racial brutality, discrimination, murder, and torture of the African American population is too long to detail. This modest but brave "human rights" protest brought worldwide attention to the struggle of an oppressed, subjugated population in the freest country on Earth.

Without a thought about the consequences or harm to themselves, these heroes of the Civil Rights movement stood for us, gave us a voice, and made us brave. Indeed, that act was the most viewed protest in the history of civilization. The world was put on notice about our struggle for equality, for humanity. Those gestures emboldened a race.

Every leader of The Movement paid a price for their leadership, many with their lives, others with their bodies, and others personally, or financially. It was no different for Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They paid personally, professionally with death threats, difficulty finding work, ridicule, scorn, and racist hatred. Moreover, Avery Brundage, head of the Olympic Committee, kicked them out of the Olympic Village and banned them from future Olympic events. Brent Musberger, then a cub reporter at the Chicago American, referred to them as "black-skinned storm troopers." (Musberger has yet to apologize for this racist slur 50 years later.)

As we enter the 50-year anniversary of all things civil rights: the Civil Rights Bill, the Freedom Rides, and Freedom Summer, where is the tribute for Tommie and John? If they are not civil rights icons, then there are no civil rights icons. They deserve to be on a Mount Rushmore of The Civil Rights Movement alongside Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Muhammad Ali, and Fannie Lou Hamer. They are just as important.

Where is their Springarn Medal, NAACP? Where is their award from the Congressional Black Caucus, and all the other black organizations? Why have they been left out? Their alma mater, San Jose State built a beautiful statue in their honor, paid for by the students themselves. The ESPYs honored them with the Arthur Ashe Award. Where is black America?

Until they are honored and held in the highest esteem, then no one should be honored. No one from The Civil Rights Movement did more to highlight our struggle for equality, and until the black community, and particularly the black leadership, pays homage them, then they are as hollow as a tinkling cymbal. All these kudos and awards for others are empty and without value until the warriors of the struggle have their proper due from us, the beneficiaries of their astounding bravery and courage.