#100Momentsin100Days: Black Power Salute in 1968



1968 – A turbulent time around the world. Riots in Paris, the ongoing war in Vietnam and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr in Memphis. The civil rights movement in the US had achieved some successes – the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968…

…but there were a growing number of predominantly younger activists that were not happy with what they saw as the usual attitude of cooperation, and the rejection of violence, of traditional black leaders.

Although the Black Power movement had been around since the early 1960s, it was starting to gain more renown on its way to a peak in the early 1970s. It had developed as a response to the concerns noted previously, with support for more radical action, ultimately to improve the standing of black people in society.

Against this backdrop, and unrest in Mexico due to protests by Mexican students (and the violent suppression of same), the Games of the XIX Olympiad took place in Mexico City.

16th October 1968 – the Men’s 200m final at the Mexico Olympics.

Tommie Smith from the USA wins in a World Record time of 19:83 seconds. He’s followed home by the Australian Peter Norman, in a national record time of 20:06 seconds. Bronze goes to American John Carlos in 20:10 seconds.

An Olympic gold medal and world record time were about to be eclipsed by the events that took place on the podium.

The US athletes had planned a protest, and had prepared accordingly – they were both shoeless, Smith wore a scarf and Carlos a necklace, to represent black poverty, black pride, and those that had suffered due to slavery, lynching or other inequalities.

They planned to wear black gloves for the protest, but only had one pair as Carlos forgot his – it was the Australian Norman, when told what was planned before the ceremony, who suggested that the two Americans split the pair between them.

All three of the athletes wore OPHR badges – whilst Norman was only made aware of the protest shortly before it happened, he had empathy with the ideals.