Olympic legend John Carlos spent two days on the Haverford campus in September sharing his insights on activism and human rights. A bronze medalist in the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Carlos and fellow medalist Tommie Smith made news around the world when they each raised a black-gloved fist on the medal stand in a silent protest of racism and economic injustice in the U.S. After the incident, Carlos and Smith were banned from the Olympic Village and struck from the U.S. Olympic Team. They even endured death threats after they got home.
Carlos, who is a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, went on to play pro football and work for the U.S. Olympic Committee, the City of Los Angeles and Puma. He is now a high-school counselor and track and field coach in California, and the author of the 2011 memoir The John Carlos Story.
On Friday, September 28, Carlos, whose visit was sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, began his visit to Haverford with an informal lunchtime gathering with students in the Ira DeA. Reid House. In the evening, Carlos gave a public talk in Stokes, and on Saturday afternoon he was part of the lineup of speakers for the TEDxHaverford event, whose theme was “Crossing Borders.”
At the Friday evening event, which drew a standing-room-only crowd to Stokes Auditorium, Associate Professor of History Alex Kitroeff joined Carlos for a conversation that explored his historic gesture, as well as his experiences as both an athlete and an activist before and after the 1968 Olympics. “It takes a lot for me to get nervous talking in public,” said Kitroeff, introducing Carlos. “But we are in the presence of a living legend, a hero, the quintessential ‘Angry Black Man’ that the white establishment vilified.”
About his controversial action at the Olympics Carlos said, “You can’t be neutral. You have to make some tough decisions. … A lot of those guys that didn’t step up to the plate, 44 years later a lot of them wish they had stood fast.”
As for what drove him then—and now— Carlos offered this: The life you live right now, he said, is not for you. “It’s for those coming after you.” Watch the whole thing below.
—Eils Lotozo (Reporting by Danny Rothschild ’15)