Olympic Black Power Statue
Dedicated in 2005, this statue commemorates one of the most memorable and historically-significant moments of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. After placing first and third in the 200-meter race, African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each donned a black glove and raised their fists in solidarity with the Black Power movement as they stood on the platform and listened to the national anthem of the United States. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman joined Smith and Carlos in wearing the badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights as the trio received their medals. The moment is memorialized in a sculpture by the Portuguese artist known as "Rigo 23" located on the campus of San Jose State University. The artist conferred with Peter Norman in creating the statue, which leaves Norman's silver medal stand empty so that visitors can stand in solidarity with the two black athletes as he did. The statue is located at San Jose State owing to an effort by professors and students to honor Smith and Carlos, who are SJSU alumni, as well as sociology professor Harry Edwards. In addition to serving as a mentor to Smith, Edwards began an effort to draw attention to racial injustice through an Olympic boycott movement that inspired the creation of the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
Backstory and Context
The two men, who were graduates of San Jose State University, each wore black socks with no shoes, to symbolize black poverty. They raised black-gloved fists in the Black Power salute, with heads bowed. Although it was less noticeable in the famous photograph of that moment, Carlos wore a necklace to symbolize the African Americans who were victims of lynchings, and Smith wore a black scarf as a symbol of black pride. The two men were booed by many spectators as they left the stadium. They were also forced to leave the Olympic Village by Avery Brundage, the head of the International Olympic Committee who saw the action of the two black athletes as a violation of the Olympic's ban on political demonstrations. It is notable that Brundage had previously supported the use of Nazi salutes in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi political party and its leader Adolf Hitler.
The two athletes paid a high price for their activism. Demonstrating the way that interpretations of events change over time San Jose State University honored the two athletes with this statue in 2005. The 22-foot tall statue, the work of Portuguese artist "Rigo 23," depicts the men with their raised fists. The silver medal winner, Australian Peter Norman, opted not to be included in the sculpture. Instead, bystanders can stand where Norman stood and experience something of that historic moment for themselves. The statue is on the campus of San Jose State University, next to Clark Hall and Tower Hall.