Raised-fist Olympians punished in 1968 will be received at White House

Sun Sep 25, 2016 6:47pm EDT
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By Sharon Bernstein and Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two African-American athletes sent home from the 1968 Olympic Games for their raised-fist protest on the medal podium, will receive a long-awaited moment of redemption at a U.S. team event at the White House this week.

The two were invited by the U.S. Olympic Committee to attend a gala dinner on Wednesday in Washington honoring the 2016 Olympic team and accompany the team to meet President Barack Obama at the White House the following day, Carlos told Reuters on Sunday.

The image of Smith and Carlos, gold and bronze medalists in the 200-meter track event in Mexico City, thrusting their black-gloved fists into the air, has become an enduring symbol of the fight for racial equality.

Their example has surfaced repeatedly in past weeks as an inspiration to African-American National Football League and college players protesting racial injustice after the fatal shootings of several black men by police.

Smith and Carlos paid a high price for their protest, not only with the Olympic Committee but also in the court of public opinion.

"It was against the charter of the Olympic Committee to make a political statement at the victory podium," Carlos said in a phone interview. "But we felt it was the only place we could make the statement at that time."

Standing in black socks, the two Americans bowed their heads and pushed their fists into the air as the U.S. anthem played, shocking the world and many Americans reeling from a turbulent year in the fight for civil rights. They were suspended from the U.S. Olympic team and sent back to the United States.

It was widely interpreted as a black power salute but the athletes later described it as a "human rights salute."   Continued...

John Carlos, whose bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics was overshadowed by his raised-fist protest on the medal podium, speaks to a reporter in Gilroy, California, U.S. September 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Alan Devall