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One-on-one with legendary Olympian Dr. John Carlos

For many, this photo will forever serve as one of the most resounding expressions of human rights injustice and American social activism.
John Carlos Olympics.jpg
John Carlos and Andrea.jpg
Posted at 4:39 PM, Aug 25, 2022

MILWAUKEE — At 77 years old, Dr. John Carlos is still running for justice. He made history during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico when he took the international stage after winning the bronze medal to make a speechless statement seen and heard around the world.

"I thought it was necessary to make a statement and even greater, I thought it was necessary that we have a collective unified group to make the statement," said Dr. Carlos.

John Carlos Olympics.jpg
1968 Olympics

For many, this photo will forever serve as one of the most resounding expressions of human rights injustice and American social activism. They were determined to take a stand against racism in the U.S., racism in sports, as well as apartheid in South Africa. He was joined by his teammates gold medalist Tommie Smith and silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia, who wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge.

"So I thought about my mother coming here as an immigrant from Cuba, my father coming in from the South just 30 years after slavery, you know, so all these things ran through my mind in terms of the gestures, the symbols that we wanted to put on."

Dr. Carlos and Tommie Smith decided about an hour and 40 minutes between the quarter semi and the finals that they would indeed take a stand. They wore black gloves, with fists in the air and their heads bowed to reflect the strength of the human spirit; they also removed their shoes.

"We didn't go out there with shoes because we were concerned about black poverty--that's why we all had black socks on."

The late Peter Norman's participation wasn't taken lightly.

"He went to the extremes because if you sit back you can say we can have 9 million white athletes and I doubt if we could have got another one that had the audacity, the nerve to step up and say 'man I'm in support of you.'"

In 2005, Dr. Carlos and Tommie Smith were honored by their alma mater San Jose State University with a statue depicting their brave gesture, but Peter Norman's image was missing and that bothered Dr. Carlos, who called Norman on the phone.

"He said I supported you, I feel it's only appropriate that they put a tag there that says who I am and what my contributions was, but to leave it open so anyone that comes from anywhere on planet earth can come to San Jose State and wanna be in that portrait, they can stand in that spot. That said volumes to me!"

Each of the men faced backlash. Carlos and Smith were met with death threats in the U.S. and Norman was blacklisted by the Australian Olympic Committee. Their bravery and willingness to use their voices for change put them among the ranks of black athletes like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jim Brown.

"To be with those individuals, I'm truly honored to be in the ranks of them, but I go beyond them - I think of Jack Johnson, I think about Harriet Tubman, I think about Rosa Parks. I think about anyone that carried the cause of equality."

Dr. Carlos continues his life-long mission to improve human rights conditions and credits scholastic encouragement and organized athletics for giving him the foundation and drive to succeed.

"I just classify myself as a man period. I'm going to do manly things, I'm going to do what I feel is the right thing to do regardless of what people might say, feel, or do."

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