The 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics inspired one of the most iconic images of all time. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists as they were given the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the men’s 200 meter sprint event. Today is Carlos’ birthday.


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I had a blast at the 1968: Civil Right at 50 event, held in Washington DC at the Newseum Institute. I also had the privilege of receiving a lifetime achievement award alongside my brothers Tommie Smith and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. . . I encourage anyone within the Washington area to visit the Newseum Institute as there are wonderful exhibits to see. There is an original Newseum-produced film, called “Justice for All,” about our 1968 Olympic protest so go check it out. Some of NFL's biggest names and my brother David Zirin are also in it. . . Here is a short video of what to expect. . ABOUT THE NEWSEUM INSTITUTE . The Newseum Institute, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is the education and outreach partner of the Freedom Forum and the Newseum. The Institute includes the First Amendment Center, the Religious Freedom Center and NewseumED, an online learning platform for teachers and students. . Further information can be found at

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John Wesley Carlos was born on this day in 1945 in Harlem, New York to Cuban parents. A standout track and field athlete in high school, he was offered a full ride to East Texas State University and did well enough at the collegiate level to earn a slot to the U.S. Men’s Track and Field squad for the 1968 Summer Games.

In the midst of preparing for the games, Carlos became a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). The group initially called for a boycott of the games for what they saw as human rights violations from Muhammad Ali being stripped of the world heavyweight boxing title, to apartheid countries like South Africa and Rhodesia participating in the Games.

The boycott didn’t have its full intended effect and along with Smith, Carlos planned to stage a protest in its place. While being given the medals at the ceremony in October of that year, Smith and Carlos raised their clenched, black-gloved fists high as silver medal winner Peter Norman of Australia, also a member of OPHR, looked ahead. The image became symbolic of the Black Power movement of the late ’60’s although Smith said that their raised fists were for human rights overall.


The aftermath of the protest led to death threats and other issues for all three athletes, considering their ties to OPHR. However, Carlos went on to continue in track and field after transferring to San Jose State University and finishing his collegiate career there before a brief professional football career. He then began coaching and mentoring children in the mid-eighties, receiving honorary doctorates from California State University, and his alma maters Texas A&M University-Commerce (formerly East Texas State University) and San Jose State University.

Carlos published the John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World in 2011 with sportswriter David Zirin.



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