The iconic image of San Jose States Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in salute of the disenfranchised was, as their longtime friend and fellow Spartan alum Ron Davis said, born from the turbulent times of 1968.
We had the assassination of Martin Luther King during that year, Davis said. The Civil Rights Movement was going on in the U.S.
Americas black Olympians had considered an Olympic boycott that year, but Smith said they chose to protest injustice in another way.
We were smart enough to use what we had, which is our speed, the fastest men in the world, and smart enough to realize the need because we lived the need, Smith said.
Almost immediately after their gesture, Smith and Carlos, and even second-place finisher, Peter Norman of Australia, who sympathized with them, began paying the price.
They were booed off of the platform. Smith and Carlos were kicked out of the Olympic Village, and none of the three ever raced in Olympic competition again.
I can see the sacrifice to these two young men, them not knowing what to expect but still making one of the biggest sacrifices of their career, in fact of their lives, Smith said.
The punishment the Olympians faced led them to desperate measures at times.
John Carlos had to use his furniture for firewood, they were so poor, Davis said. I think that struggle that he had probably took its toll on his wife and the same thing with Tommy Smith.
Davis, now the track coach at San Jose State, looks on in satisfied wonder at the statue erected on campus in honor of Carlos and Smith. The 23-foot statue, depicting Smith and Carlos on the Olympic podium with their fists raised and gloved, was erected in 2005.
Davis said history has been kind to the duos legacy.
Now people understand was they were talking about because people are experiencing it now due to the financial crisis that we are all having, Davis said. Because of that, they can relate to why they did what they did.