John Carlos on His Fist-Raising Protest

This former Olympian recalls why he and teammate Tommie Smith donned black gloves at the 1968 Games.

John Carlos (Courtesy of Dave Zirin)
John Carlos (Courtesy of Dave Zirin)

TR: Was the black-glove fist professor Edwards’ idea?

JC: Harry had no idea. He was as surprised as you or anyone else who was walking the Earth that day. I would say collectively, it was Tommie Smith and I. It was our idea together.

TR: Describe your feelings and emotions before the race. Were you nervous about your performance?

JC: The main thing that ran through my mind when we ran the final race, my statement to myself was, “Damn, let’s get it on.” Now the formality is out the way, now we can do what we came to do and that’s take care of business on the victory stand.

My premise for going to the games was to make a statement. I wanted to represent the people from where I came from. It was the first time the Olympic Games was televised worldwide. The first time the Olympic Games was televised in Technicolor. The first time that anyone even cared to step up and make a public statement about humanity.

TR: When did you start planning to use the black glove and walk out without wearing running shoes? There were other items you had as well, right?

JC: I said to Mr. Smith, after we ran our quarter- and semi-final race, that I wanted to make a statement. He was with me on that. Then we came to the next stage — what do you have to bring to the table? Mr. Smith said, “I have some gloves.” Bring ’em. I had some black beads. Bring ’em. He had a black scarf. Bring ’em. I had a black shirt. Bring it. We decided that we would wear black socks, roll our pants cuffs up, go out there barefoot and put the Puma shoe on the victory stand.