Monday, 21 May 2012

Part II: John Carlos, an alternative Olympic flame visits London

So, here's the second post on John Carlos' visit to London. 

The USA's Tommie Smith won the 1968 Mexico City Olympic gold medal winning the 200 metres final in 19.87 seconds, a new world record time unsurpassed for almost 20 years.
  Australian Peter Norman and America's John Carlos each ran 20 seconds flat but Norman just pipped Carlos to the silver.
  But what led John Carlos to his podium protest (below)? Speaking to a London audience (above) Harlem born and raised Carlos cites his childhood and adolescent experiences. Born in 1945, a native son of the ‘Big Apple’, (New York City, not the computer firm), Carlos faced the perils that threatened most young Black American men trying to survive in 1960s urban America.
Young Black boys passed from grade to high school without being able to read. “When I was freshman at High School they wrote ‘John Carlos’ on the board. I couldn’t even read my name. How is that possible in the greatest nation in the world?”
  Carlos said he lived in a neighbourhood where young Black men were told the only job was to “clean up the dog shit” or “be the uniformed bellhop” on the hotel door. Black men educated to degree level who tried to better themselves found their qualifications counted less than the colour of their skin. Trying to tide themselves over with low-paid jobs, they faced the “you’re over-qualified” line.
  Carlos saw many black men crumple under this drip-drip discrimination. He saw them succumb to drink and drugs, both widely available on Black neighbourhood street corners.
  Pregnant women with drugs running their bodies were prescribed yet more drugs. Babies were born addicts, literally.
  On top of ‘bang goes the neighbourhood’, Carlos’ says his political fire was inflamed further by the lynching of African Americans and Civil Rights organisers in the deep south, the deaths of African American soldiers in Vietnam War and – especially – by the assassinations of Civil Rights movement leader Martin Luther King and the Black radical Malcolm X.
  These experiences and events influenced John Carlos’ understanding of racial injustice and what he needed to do with his life. The 1968 Olympics presented a chance and a challenge.
  Carlos, speaking before his London audience, said: “Were we supposed to sit back, grin, and be happy that we could go to the Olympics Games and win a gold medal?...No.”

One more post to follow on John Carlos...

Photo of John Carlos in London: © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2012. 
No repro without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2012

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