In the late 1960s, the counterculture movement was well underway, the Vietnam War was shredding America and the quest for minority rights was adding to the tumult. At the 1968 Summer Olympic games in Mexico City, two black American athletes — Tommie Smith and John Carlos — won gold and bronze medals in the 200-meter race and decided to make a statement at the medals ceremony.
Both men raised a black-gloved fist into the air in a Black Power salute for the entirety of the national anthem, their heads bowed toward the ground. Their salute was a preplanned demonstration meant to call attention to the issue of human rights and inequality [source: BBC]. "I had no idea the moment on the medal stand would be frozen for all time," Carlos told The Guardian in 2012.
Their rebellious act immediately drew boos in the stadium, as well as worldwide headlines and the wrath of millions of angry Americans when they saw the picture of the runners' upraised fists [source: Cosgrove].
The picture of the protest reveals more details. Smith removed his shoes and placed them on the podium, his black socks a symbol of African-American poverty. Carlos unzipped his jacket to represent steadfast alliance with downtrodden blue-collar American workers. And all three athletes, including Australian silver medalist Peter Norman, wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges. (Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman's funeral in 2006) [source: Younge].
In the firestorm that followed, the International Olympic Committee banned the offenders from the rest of the Games, although they kept their medals. But the indelible picture of open rebellion on an international stage provided more fuel for activism back home.