American Heroes: Tommie Smith and John Carlos 50 Years Later

Photo taken by John Dominis for Life Magazine

Real life heroes are often regular people who step up and do the right thing. They’re everyday people who use their platform for good.

For Tommie Smith and John Carlos, they could no longer sit idly by and ignore the conditions in which their fellow African-Americans endured. “I had a moral obligation to step up. Morality was a far greater force than the rules and regulations they had,” Carlos told The Guardian newspaper. 1968 was marred with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April and the live, televised beating of Black protestors at the Chicago Democratic National Convention by police officers. Smith and Carlos knew they had to use their platform to lend their voice to such an important cause.

So when they took the podium to receive their 1st and 3rd place awards and the Star-Spangled Banner played as the American flag was raised, they dropped their heads and raised their fists – a symbol of Black Pride.

The arena went quiet before the sound of boos and Americans in attendance yelling the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner. Before they know it, Smith and Carlos were being thrown out of the arena and eventually kicked out of Mexico. It took Team USA and the Olympic committee 48 years to make amends with the two pioneers as they were invited to their first Olympic ceremony since 1968.

Today we honor Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the 50th anniversary of their life changing bravery.

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