POET: Ant Black and Tarez Lemmons
PIECE: John Carlos and Tommie Smith
Society and Culture
Recalling the raised fist protest in the 1968 Olympics.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase

“You won the races/
Just to beat the racists

This poem is an ode to the1968 Olympic protest by John Carlos and Tommie Smith. The poets explore the symbolism of the athletes protest, including the gloves, beads, jackets, and unworn shoes on one of the world’s most visible platforms. The piece offers the protest as not only a struggle against racism, but classism, colonialism, and the silencing of athletes who use their voice for social change.

Full Transcript of Poem

When the sound of patriotism silenced our speech
You raised the echoes of our voices
Clinched tightly
Black glove over a closed fist and held it like a conversation that didn’t need words

John Carlos
Tommie Smith

There was a time when it didn’t matter if Blacks where in courts with judges or on courts with rims
If they were in fields to pick cotton or to pick off footballs
Athletes were slaves to the racism around them

I bet your father didn’t tell you that in 20.10 seconds
You could run from Harlem to hero
That the length between innocence and infamy
Was only 200 meters
He couldn’t explain how medals made of gold
Made of silver
Made of bronze
Could weigh infinitely more than the shackles of slaves
That is, if you wear a medal the right way
Jacket open
Beads dangling
Head bowed
Just in case they confuse your power for bravado

You didn’t listen when they told you that sports was no place for politics
That the only difference between
Calvary hill and Olympia is whether one
Possesses a torch or a cross for the people he wants to save
They nailed you to a cross roads
Wearing the spikes on your feet as a crown of thorns

John Carlos – Tommie Smith
Sprinted off of the blocks with the sort of speed we wished all change would come with
Others ran to break records, you ran to break barriers
You won the races
Just to beat the racists
Just to make a point
That blacks shouldn’t have to win first place medals to be more than second class citizens
Reminded us that we are not human capitol
We are not replicants programmed with history
We are not mindless victims of internal-colonization

Exists in the screams swallowed by the Atlantic ocean
1968 Exist in the abolitionist and in the Panthers
1968 exist In a Black kid who turns a track scholarship and a football scholarship into a PhD

John Carlos – Tommie Smith
You ran every foot-strike
As if your spikes
Had the power
To liberate the people
From the violence in oppression
Unzipped jacket for the mistreated workers in America
Necklace for the souls of Black folks
Lynched folks
Killed folks
Silenced folks

You caused the world to spin backwards
Caused confusion in the cosmos
Caused moons
and oceans
and plants and planets
To stand with Peter Norman in solidarity
Black shirt
Black gloves
Black socks
Black skin
Black fists
Holding our voices in the air
Careful not to let a single echo melt in the backdrop of an american flag
Honest to God
…and your Pumas

To the comrades and freedom fighters at San Jose State University
When the institution 3-5ths you with locks around your neck
When micro-aggressions cover your campus and makes it hard for you to breathe
Even if they take your voice
You are always able to speak

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

  • Would you consider the Black power salute an act of positive deviance?
  • What can silver medalist, Peter Norman, teach us about allyship?
  • What makes sports a controversial place for protest and social activism? Consider the Olympics as well as national sports like the NFL.

Artist Comments

This space is reserved for any comments the author of the piece may have about the points he was trying to get across and the background of why he wrote the poem.