Picture gallery: John Carlos brings his fight against oppression to Norwich, 44 years after his famous Black power salute at 1968 Mexico Olympics

The image of American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith standing on the podium at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, arms raised and gloved fists clenched in Black Power salutes, is one of the most iconic in Olympic Games history.

Forty-four years on, Carlos is still fighting against oppression and inequality, as David Freezer found out during the Olympian's visit to Norwich last week.

When sport and politics collide it can often make for a powerful combination, a fact known only too well by a true Olympic legend who visited Norwich last week.

John Carlos, an American sprinter who claimed 200m bronze at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, came to the city as part of a national tour around England to promote his book, The John Carlos Story.

He spoke at an event held at Cinema City, in St Andrews Street, last Tuesday night but made a special appearance to speak with students at Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) beforehand.

For Carlos is no ordinary Olympic medallist. He is also a hero to the Black Power movement and human rights activists.

Most Read

He appears in one of the most memorable images in Olympic history, after choosing to use the most famous moment of his life to take a stand against oppression.

Along with his fellow black countryman, Tommie Smith – who had won gold in the 200m final in Mexico City's Olympic Stadium – Carlos used the medal ceremony podium to make the Black Power salute in front of a global audience.

The duo wanted to bring attention to racial segregation and inequality in the USA and sent shockwaves around the world by taking their silent stand.

The 61-year-old New Yorker proved an inspirational character for a group of around 20 NUCA students, as he visited the current exhibit of American graphic designer Lance Wyman's work, which focuses on the Mexico 1968 Olympics.

He spoke passionately about his memories of October 16, 1968, saying: 'I thought, I can close my eyes and see everything in the stadium. If they were to lock me up as a political prisoner, I could probably do 30 or 40 years and be free in my head.

'It was like God gave me a stairway to Mexico City. I got to meet some very important people and icons.

'We wanted to make a statement so powerful, but non-violent, to kick people's conscience. I think it was a Divine situation that put me in a situation where I could make a difference.

'It was in the newspapers, on the radios, on the TVs every day, and you don't see that very much (but) if you believe in what you are fighting for, you are going to have longevity.'

Carlos accepted his bronze medal wearing black socks and no shoes to represent impoverished people and the American duo were also supported by silver medallist, white Australian Peter Norman, who wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Avery Brundage immediately suspended Smith and Carlos from the US team and banned them from the Olympic Village, but no penalties were enforced on Norman.

Carlos went on to meet influential figures, including Martin Luther King, but had to continue to battle against racial inequality and both he and Smith received death threats.

He went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League and work with the United States Olympic Committee and the organising committee of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, as well as a school counsellor and PE teacher. His life has proved an inspiration to many and he remains clear on his beliefs, pointing to one of the students and asking bluntly: 'If your girlfriend was to come home and tell you she was pregnant, would she be halfway pregnant?

'You are either bothered about the situation or you're not. You have to make decisions in your life.

'Everybody else could be going wrong but they could find their way through you, you've got to say what you believe in.

'It's not about white or black, it's not about rich or poor, it's about right and wrong.

'Some people with money might step on people who don't, that's wrong.

'Some people are persecuted because they have long hair or a beard, that's wrong. The only person that gets to decide that is God.

'Everybody is born and everybody dies. What is important is what you do between those points.'

In closing, curator of the Lance Wyman exhibit at NUCA, Fiona Gaynor, told Mr Carlos that she had posted a picture of him on Twitter during his speech and that one of her followers had described him as their 'hero'.

The Olympian smiled and simply finished by saying: 'Tell them I said thank you and my love is still with them.'

- To see more pictures of Mr Carlos's visit, view the picture gallery at the top-right of this page.

- For more information about John Carlos and his beliefs, visit the website of his Believe In Yourself campaign, www.johncarlos68.com

- The Lance Wyman exhibition at The Gallery at NUCA, in St Georges Street, continues between midday and 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday, until Saturday, June 9.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter