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)

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The black glove was to say that we want the world to know, although we are here for humanity, we want the world to know that these are black people concerned about humanity. We wanted to represent our blackness through that black glove. My black shirt that I had over my USA jersey was for the shame I had for America: Why do we have to come as second-class citizens to be your warriors in the wars? Second-class citizens in the business world … in the realms of education or housing or employment.

Mr. Smith put that black scarf on his neck to show unity. We put black socks with no shoes to show third-world poverty. Individuals are walking miles a day without shoes to try to get an education and we’re sending spaceships to the moon but we can’t stop poverty in the U.S.

TR: The news media’s reaction was harsh. Time had a distorted version of the Olympic logo on its cover with the words: “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier.” The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country.” Brent Musburger, then a young reporter at the Chicago American, called you “a pair of black-skinned storm troopers.”

JC: We were ostracized. We had everything pelted against us, we had no means to defend ourselves. We couldn’t make them come and have a dialogue with us about the why, where’s and what’s. Then you had individuals like Brent Musburger calling us neo-Nazis … all across this nation, the major newspapers just decimated us. What vehicle did we have to express ourselves? We didn’t have social media, Twitter or Facebook.

TR: Have you talked to Brent Musburger since then? Do you think he should apologize?