Labour Research (June 2012)


The John Carlos Story

John Carlos with Dave Zirin, Haymarket Books, 220 pages, hardback, Bookmarks special offer £13 (normally £16.99)

As the 2012 London Olympics loom ever nearer, this is a good time to remember John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute on the 1968 Olympic podium which sparked controversy.

Their show of defiance remains one of the most iconic images of Olympic history. “A lot of the athletes thought that winning medals would supersede or protect them from racism. But even if you won the medal it ain’t going to save your momma. It ain’t going to save your sister or children,” says Carlos.

The two men didn’t just give the Black Power salute. They wore no shoes to protest against black poverty and beads to protest at lynching. Within hours, Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Village.

The Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute”.

On the Olympic logo, in place of the motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” Time magazine blared “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier”.

Contrast this with the words of John Carlos himself. “I was representing shift workers, blue-collar people, and the underdogs. That’s why my shirt was open. Those are the people whose contributions to society are so important but don’t get recognized.”

Reviews contributed by the Bookmarks socialist bookshop. Order online at

This information is copyright to the Labour Research Department (LRD) and may not be reproduced without the permission of the LRD.