“I believe every man is born equal and should be treated that way.” Peter George Norman, Australian Silver Medalist 1968 Summer Games
Headlines: Summer Olympics 1968: Mexico City
“At the 1968 Mexico games, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the gold and bronze medallists in the 200m race, gave the black-power salute on the podium to protest about racism, Vietnam and civil rights. Perhaps more sensationally still, the Australian silver medallist Peter Norman wore the same human-rights badge as Smith and Carlos as a quiet gesture of solidarity. The Americans were thrown out of the games by the IOC, and Norman was cold-shouldered by Australia’s stuffy athletic establishment, and not even invited to the 2000 Sydney games.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/jul/12/salute-review?newsfeed=true
“Norman noted that Smith had taken off his trainers and was waiting in black socks while Carlos was wearing a long line of beads around his neck that lay over his tracksuit top. Norman asked what they were doing. They informed Norman that they were protesting about the plight of Black Americans in the US and that the bare socks represented poverty and the beads represented all those who had been lynched fighting for their rights.
“In response to their answer, Norman, who opposed his government’s ‘White Australia’ policy, asked a nearby American athlete if he could wear his Olympic Project for Human Rights badge as a show of support for both Smith and Carlos and for the plight of the Black Americans. Both Smith and Carlos also wore the badge. It was Norman who suggested that both men should wear just one black glove brought to the ceremony by Smith – Carlos had left his at the Olympic village – which explains why one had a gloved right fist raised and one a gloved left fist.
“While the world focussed on Smith and Carlos for the raised fist salute, few noticed the badge worn by the silver medallist. It was Smith and Carlos who were booed by the audience at the stadium and not Peter Norman. However, after the medal ceremony, what Norman had worn above his national emblem on his tracksuit was more closely analysed by the Australian authorities in Mexico. Once it became obvious what it was and what it represented, they deemed that he was guilty of making a political statement at what was meant to be an apolitical event. Unlike Smith and Carlos, Norman was allowed to stay in Mexico but the Australian media made it clear that they expected him to be punished once the team had returned home, as they believed that he had violated the non-political status of the Olympics.”
Two African-Americans and one Australian stood a stand at the Summer Olympics in 1968. They paid dearly for it.
Most people knew about the USA’s racial tensions and problems. Australia had its own “White Australia” policy and “The Stolen Generations” Aboriginal Australians policy.
There are moments when opportunities present themselves for humans to take a stand for what they believe to be right. Of course as history reveals, those decisions can have lasting importance and consequences.
Salute is an 2008 awarding documentary told by the three men who made a stand at the 1968 Olympics. It premieres in the USA July 17. More information can be found on the web site: http://salutethemovie.com/
Unfortunately, Peter Norman never saw the finished film. He died October 3, 2006 in Melbourne. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were pallbearers at the funeral.
If you have seen the film or plan to see it or buy it, tell your friends about it. History is only non-repeatable if you know what happened and why. And if you make a conscious effort to make sure it does not repeat again.
Human rights and dignity are always a day away from being abrogated by someone on this planet traversing the cosmos. Such abrogation is often very subtle.
G. D. Williams © 2012
1968 The Black Power Salute
“I really enjoyed the film and it was great to see so many young people turn out to watch what happened all those years ago in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics,” said Smith (pictured below, seated), now aged 68.
“We did what we did because we felt it was something important to do for the good of humanity.
“We suffered a lot in the years afterwards for protesting on that stage but we did it because we believed it would help the black cause at the time – and I don’t regret it at all.
“It is wonderful to now to see what the three of us did celebrated in this film.”
Harry Edwards: Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR)