A Sequel to the 1968 Olympics 'Salute' Story

By Duane Shank 8-04-2008

Jarrod McKenna's post on the 1968 Olympics witness/protest brought back memories of that event, and the impression it made on me. And there is a sequel to the story.

On October 3, 2006, Peter Norman died from a heart attack. John Carlos had this reaction: "Peter was a piece of my life. When I got the call, it knocked the wind out of me. I was his brother. He was my brother. That's all you have to know." Tommie Smith added, "It took inner power to do what he did, inner soul power. ... He was a man of solid beliefs, that's how I will remember Peter -- he was a humanitarian and a man of his word."

Over the years, the three men had stayed in touch with each other. Though stripped of their medals and criticized by the U.S. media, Carlos and Smith had returned home as heroes to the black community, while Peter Norman faced ostracism and hostility in Australia for his role in the protest.

Smith and Carlos traveled to Melbourne and were pallbearers at Norman's funeral. They also spoke about their friend there:

Smith described Norman as "a man who believed right could never be wrong" and told Norman's family: "Peter Norman's legacy is a rock. Stand on that rock." Smith concluded: "Peter shall always be my friend. The spirit shall prevail."

Carlos spoke of the hatred they knew would be directed at them. "Not every young white individual would have the gumption, the nerve, the backbone, to stand there. ... Go and tell your kids the story of Peter Norman."

The film McKenna notes, Salute, was directed by Norman's nephew Matt. This spring, Australia's Qantas airlines announced that the film will be shown on all flights to Beijing beginning in late July. The same news story also reported that:

Australian Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Tancred said despite an International Olympic Committee rule prohibiting any form of protest at the Games, Australian team guidelines had been redrafted to permit freedom of expression.

"The team will be able to express a point of view on human rights, Tibet and any other issue in media interviews and, for the first time ever, in blogs,'' he said.

A stand for human rights in the spirit of Peter Norman, John Carlos, and Tommie Smith will be needed in this year's Olympics. The Washington Post reported on Saturday:

The Olympic Games have become the occasion for a broad crackdown against dissidents, gadflies and malcontents this summer. Although human rights activists say they have no accurate estimate of how many people have been imprisoned, they believe the figure to be in the thousands. ... The repressive atmosphere has intensified in part because senior Communist Party officials seem to be just as determined to prevent embarrassing protests -- which could be televised -- as they are to avert terrorist attacks during the Olympics.

As you watch the Olympics this August, remember and tell your kids the story of Peter Norman, John Carlos, and Tommie Smith.

Duane Shank is issues and policy advisor at Sojourners.

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