San Jose State University

San Jose State Remembers Historic Olympic Moment, Honors Tommy Smith and John Carlos

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Most of the Bay Area is familiar with the iconic moment when two San Jose state sprinters raised their fist in protest at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. But few acknowledge what happened to the two men after they stepped down from the medal stand.

It was 53 years ago in the month of October that Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest at the Olympics in Mexico City and on Tuesday, students and faculty remembered the sacrifices the two men made and echoed.

The gold and bronze medal winners raised their fists while on the medal stand to protest racism and injustice against African-Americans in the United States. They didn't utter a word but their actions spoke volumes.

“They took their shoes off to represent poverty in America, especially Black America,” said Dr. Akilah Carter Francique.

She is the executive director of the Institute for the Study of Sports Society and Social Change at San Jose State.

She said few people know what life was like for the athletes after they were ousted from the Olympic games.

“It was a hardship. It was not a good experience for them or their families; they were not able to find work and they were constantly followed by the FBI,” said Carter Francique.

Dr. Robert Griffin was on the Speed City Track team with Smith and Carlos. He said after the Olympics, their track careers ended, they were not embraced by San Jose State when they returned and their lives were often threatened.

“They understood and endured the consequences,” said Griffin “Tommy Smith worked at a car wash, can you imagine an Olympic gold medalist working at a car wash?”

On Tuesday, in the shadow of a statue honoring their actions, students praised Smith and Carlos for demanding change despite the consequences. And for inspiring them to fight for social change too.

“Every day on this campus we choose to rise and fight for what we believe in just like Smith and Carlos sacrificed for the greater good,” said Melissa Williams, presidents of the Black Student Union. 

The power of two men who decided to take a stand for justice no matter the cost.

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