Last Updated on March 12, 2013 by Jimson Lee
This is part 1 of 2 from my recent visit to the Bay Area, California
A trip to Silicon Valley wouldn’t be complete without a visit to San José State University.
I had two things on my agenda. Visit the Tommie Smith – John Carlos 23 foot statute, and visit the old Track and Field facility, otherwise known as Winter Field (after legendary coach Bud Winter)
Tommie Smith and John Carlos won Gold and Bronze at the Olympics on October 16, 1968 in Mexico City. 37 years later, they unveiled a statue between Clark Hall and Tower Hall at the SJSU Campus. You can’t miss it.
The sculpture depicts the pivotal moment in history when Smith and Carlos took a stand for human rights on the victory podium at the Olympics. It was a “silent protest” that was seen around the world, hence the book title for Smith, not Black Power.
The statue is made from hand-cut ceramic tiles and modeled in fiber glass. Their heads and arms are cast in bronze.
The second place podium remains empty for visitors to “take a stand” for human rights (at least, that was my interpretation).
Other than the symbolic black glove and walking bare feet with a Puma shoe on the side, the other controversial object was the human rights badge seen by Carlos and Peter Norman of Australia, who finished second.
Norman quoted he was disgusted by his own country’s government’s White Australia policy, which ended in 1975, seven years after this protest. Needless to say, he was not popular with Australia’s Olympic authorities nor the Australian media. Kudos to Peter Norman for taking a stand.
Below are some of the photos.
I find this statue to be quite self indulgent to be honest.
As an Australian knowing Peter Norman’s version of events I believe this represents what Smith and Carlos were trying to prevent and take a stand against, inequality and basic human rights and respect. 3 people were involved and to only represent 2 is making their act just like what they are fighting against.
To use the excuse of letting people stand their for pictures really is a silly equation and the truth is that there was no place for the white guy on a black tribute display.
Peter Norman was asked to be apart of the statue and he turned it down since he felt like he didn’t belong in the representation of the stand. There is a plate saying what Norman did on the 2nd place podium.
Jack Mayeron says
Artists depart from total realism to convey themes. From the perspective that Carlos and Smith effectively used that moment to make a statement that became more significant than a medal ceremony, the statue speaks volumes. As a matter of fact, when I watched this ceremony in 1968, Carlos and Smith, with their now famous “Black Power” salute is all I remember seeing.
Jack Quigley says
Course you did, because you are American, you can’t see anything beyond your borders.
I’d like to comment on the top poster. Thank you for stating that. Yes its certainly not showing Peter Norman any respect for standing up for black America. Peter Norman played a huge part by showing his support and wearing the badge. What other white man in 1968 would be brave enough to do that. As an American I was amazed to know what happened to Peter Norman during and after this event. I just saw the film “Salute” which was made by Peter Norman’s nephew Matt Norman. Must check it out. salutethemovie.com and it’s being released here in America later this year i’m told.
Bud Houston says
I agree with “anonymous” above. The statue was not a great composition without including Silver medalist Peter Norman who was wearing an OPHR badge to show his support for the two Americans.
That being said, I’m gratified that Tommie Smith (Gold) and John Carlos (Bronze) are accorded such a tribute today. Back then (yes, I’m an old man)they were broadly reviled by white racist America for lifting their black power salute.
For the posters above …
It’s well documented that Peter Norman agreed to the design and being left out. The concept is that anyone can stand on the podium and, in essence, stand for something like John Carlos, Tommie Smith AND Peter Norman did. The idea is that Peter is letting people take his place to take a stand against injustice. No disrespect was meant by leaving him out of the statue physically. If anything, his absence is a reminder of the spirit of his support.
It would be nice if that was put on the plaque at the statue though, otherwise how is anyone meant to know that is the reason without trying to look it up? It does make it look like they just missed him out so people could have a photo opportunity.
I was deeply touched by this protest that took place in 68. What Smith and Carlos did was a great example of selflessness and bravery and I thank them for standing up especially during the Olympic Ceremony for what they strongly believed in: inequality and injustice is simply wrong and evil. But what Peter Norman did was something he simply didn’t have to do considering the fact that he was a caucasian in 1968. When I heard about Peter Norman I added him to “my heroes list”. I can’t wait to see the documentary. Hayley by the way thank you for clearing it up because I too was wondering why his statue wasn’t on the podium. It even makes him a bigger hero in my eyes that he agreed to be left out. What he did was extraordinary although he seems to be humble about it. To this day his time in 200 meters is unbroken in Australia. The picture brought tears to my eyes where Smith and Carlos paying their respects by carrying his coffin at his funeral. Does anyone know a website that sells the poster of both pictures? The protest during the 68 ceremony and his coffin being carried by Smith and Carlos?
Jimson Lee says
@ozzie, I am not sure of the latter photo, but I will ask around. The first photo is available here:
SJSU Employee & Student says
If you would have done your research you would have understood that Peter Norman, the Australian athlete that took 2nd, volunteered to not be included in the SJSU campus statues because he wanted to give students a chance to rally around the statues and “take a stand” in what they believe in. If you have ever visited the statues yourself you would notice that in his place stand a plaque that states “Fellow Athlete Australian Peter Norman stood here in solidarity. Take a stand.”
Alfonso De Alba says
I had the great opportunity to work with these three great athletes and human right champions, as well as with rigo 23 the artist who erected the sculpture as we unanimously agreed on the final design. These individuals are not affraid of making a statement and acted in 68 as well as during the cosntruction of the sculpture with their principles intact, free of “political correctness”. Great individuals are like that.