On October 18, 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two American sprinters stood on the gold and bronze medal stands for their ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. As the flags were raised and the anthem started to play, they each put a fist in the air to symbolize black power. They were both suspended by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The intention of their action was to bring attention to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The teammates from San Jose State University made the gesture instead of listening to their schoolmate Harry Edwards who told them to boycott the Olympics alongside other black athletes.
“Smith later told the media that he raised his right, black-glove-covered fist in the air to represent black power in America while Carlos’ left, black-covered fist represented unity in black America.” –infoplease.com
This highly controversial moment in Olympic history was praised by supporters and was said to be moving and motivational. Opponents of the Civil Rights Movement saw the action as militaristic and threatening.
Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist of the 200 meter sprint in 1968 showed his support later that evening by wearing a badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
The two American sprinters are now coaches for high school track teams.