Tommie Smith

In honor of Black History Month, every school day The Cardinal will feature a prominent and historical Black American, living or dead, who has worked toward change, advancement, and/or world peace. Some of them are heroes, and some are unsung heroes, who deserve recognition, and have made a contribution to society.


Jasmin Gallegos, Staff Writer

Tommie Smith was born June 6, 1944, in Clarksville, Texas. He was raised in Lemmore, California, and went to college at San Jose State University.

Smith was very athletic- he was a star on the track and field and a wide receiver for the American Football League. Smith eventually made it to the 1968 Summer Olympics held in Mexico City. He participated, representing the US, in the 200- meter sprint. Smith won gold breaking (for the first time) the 20-second barrier. Smith, however, is not known for his record-breaking sprint but rather for what occurred at the medal ceremony afterward.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, an athlete representing the US who had won bronze, raised their fist in the air as the national anthem was played. They did it as a silent protest against how African- Americas were being unjustly treated in America. They didn’t lower their fists until the song was over. During the Olympics, Smith wore a human rights badge on his jacket. The protest caused an uproar with many people outraged. The media and the public belittled and criticized Smith and his fellow protester, and there was talk of taking back their medals. Smith and his family received death threats but the protest also caused much-needed conversation on African American injustice- the protest inspired more public calls for equality.

Smith is remembered for bravely standing up against injustice on a large worldwide stage. Things could have ended horribly for him but fortunately, they didn’t. Smith continued pursuing athletics, and played in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and assisted in physical education at Oberlin College. Smith was bestowed with the California Black Sportsman of the Millennium Awards. Smith was a talented athlete and representative for civil rights, his public peaceful protest would go down in history as one of the most famous in public media.