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SJSU Honors '68 Olympics Activists With Sculpture

After thirty-seven years, San Jose State student activists and 1968 Olympic Medal Winners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, are honored with a statue commemorating their world famous salute.
The Tommie Smith and John Carlos statue was recently unveiled at San Jose State University. (Photo credit: Spartan Daily)
Smith-Carlos.pdf (4075 k)
A brief history of the two student activists/athletes from San Jose State Associated Students
Recipients, audience pleased with statue unveiling

By Cheeto Barrera
Spartan Daily Staff Writer
October 17, 2005

Loud cheers and applause from an audience of hundreds erupted when the black parachute covering statues of Tommie Smith and John Carlos was lifted.
As the sky darkened, a cherry picker with two men lifted the covering, but it was snagged twice, first on Smith's fist, and then on Carlos'.

The parachute was eventually freed and flashes lit up the sky above the field in front of the former Clark Library.

"I thought it was great," said Raysean Ford, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice. "I thought it was inspiring, especially for me as an African American man."

Stephanie Zamudio, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences, said the statues mean a lot to the community and taught a history lesson.

"I saw the pictures and but I did not know how involved it was - I know a lot more now," Zamudio said. "The symbolism and everything is just, wow."

Jonathan Olivares, an undeclared freshman, said the day has helped to teach him about the historic event.

"I sort of knew a little about what they did," Olivares said. "(The statues) help the university understand its history."

Before the event, Smith, who along with Carlos is an alumni of San Jose State, said he was intimidated by the size of the monuments but appreciated the message with which future generations are left.

"I'm scared," Smith said. "I only know one immortal and his name is Jesus."

Carlos said the statue would be around as long as San Jose State University is around, teaching students about what it means to be an activist.

"I'm elated," Smith said. "I am elated for the youth of America. I am elated for the seniors of America."

The statues, made of fiberglass encasing a steel frame then covered by ceramic tiles, are a memorial to the silent statements Smith and Carlos made during the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City.

"This was such a historical moment that was not recognized like it should have been," said Duane Houston, an undeclared freshman. "This is very important to the school."

After Smith took the gold medal and Carlos took the bronze medal in the 200-meter dash, they each raised a gloved fist - a symbol of black power during the civil rights movement.

The unveiling capped off a day's worth of events culminating in a ceremony honoring Smith and Carlos with a series of speeches from SJSU and city officials and special dignitaries.

Each of the speakers spoke of the bravery that Smith and Carlos had to raise their fists in a time where racial tensions were high. And they spoke of the reverberations the statement had on the world.

"(Smith and Carlos) dropped a pebble in a small pond," said Peter Norman, an Australian who shared the podium with Smith and Carlos during the ceremony after winning the silver medal. "The reverberations from the ripples from the center of that pond are still traveling. ... Another pebble has gone into the water (with the making of the statue) and another ripple is traveling to the other end of the pond."

A statue of Norman was not placed on the podium with Smith and Carlos, but he said he was not upset to not be included.

"I stepped in to lend my support," Norman said before the unveiling. "As I am told, anyone can stand in and get a picture taken and be a part of the event. ... I am honored to be commemorated in part of the celebration."

Actor Delroy Lindo said the statement made by the duo answered a fundamental question in society.

"But in facing the challenge of that question, who are you," Lindo said. "These two gentlemen represent the finest example of the answer of that question."

The day started out with a documentary film, "Fists of Freedom," then continued with Smith and Carlos in "conversation with history" with Norman and 1968 Olympic medalist and SJSU graduate Lee Evans and a panel discussion.

During the unveiling ceremony, both the Associated Students and Cindy Chavez, vice mayor of San Jose, gave proclamations to Smith and Carlos in commemoration for what they did in 1968.

After each proclamation, cheers erupted from the crowd.

The cheers came back as Smith, Carlos, Norman and Evans received standing ovations as they each came up to make speeches.

After the ceremony was over, many stayed around to take pictures of the statues or to get autographs from Smith and Carlos.

Mobs surrounded both Smith and Carlos, who also had television reporters asking them questions about the event.

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Re: SJSU Honors '68 Olympics Activists With Sculpture

More should be done to honor these men that chose to take a stand and continue to suffer hardships to this day as a result of their peaceful protest. Get to know them as athletes as well... legendary stuff. :o)

Re: SJSU Honors '68 Olympics Activists With Sculpture

there have been many explanations of the protest. One that the gloves are from the same pair, therefore the protest was one left and one right. They removed their shoes to protest the level of poverty America maintains among the African Americans, sadly a situation that persist to this day. They held their heads down for the shame American brings upon the greatest society since Imperial Rome, brings upon itself through the opression and pettiness of racial hate,

Not sure if I am correct but that is how it was explained to me some years ago. I watched this unfold in my livingroom and was very, very proud of these gentlemen. I am sure they suffered.

Also didn't the Olympic committee immediately have the athletes leave the Olympic village and return to the states.


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