|Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos|
Peter Norman Story by Barbara Diamond
I also have recently read John Carlos' autobiography. And I must admit before reading his book 'The John Carlos Story' co-authored with Dave Zirin, I was never a big fan of Mr. Carlos. I thought he was a blowhard, too outspoken. (My own racism coming to the surface?). Maybe I just bit hard on the way the media chose to characterize him. I was more sympathetic to Tommie Smith who was less outspoken. However after reading the book, I've become a fan of both men. John Carlos was an East Coast, Harlem, NY native raised there in the 1950s and 60s. He would meet the definition of a street hustler. His work place was outside the Savoy Ballroom, doing whatever he could as a youth to make a few bucks. He had two things going for him. First was a strong family with great parents, and he had the gift of speed. He talks about stealing food and supplies off freight trains and outrunning the police with a case of goods in his arms and people watching those races over the 155th Street railway bridge. He played Robin Hood, by distributing the stolen goods to needy families. He was more than aware of Malcolm X and followed him around Harlem until the day he was killed. By the time he got to high school he was able to parlay his speed into running track and anchoring his team, Machine and Metal Trades High School, to a sprint relay victory at the Penn Relays. He was by today's definition a dyslexic child and struggled on the academic side of high school. But he finally made his was to Commerce, Texas on a track scholarship, going there with his wife. This was 1965. Do you see the irony? A Harlem, hustler, and admirer of Malcolm X going to East Texas State on a track scholarship in the 1960s? He was thrown into a world of racism and paternalism that he didn't know existed. Carlos doesn't pull any punches and names names when it comes to the life he experienced in Commerce. That he managed to stick it out several years is a tribute to his determination. He eventually transferred to San Jose State. We follow him out to the West Coast leading up to the 1968 Olympic Trials and the movement by black athletes to boycott the Games. He names names again, who defected, who pretended it never existed who stuck to their guns. The boycott eventually broke down, and black athletes participated in the Trials and in the Games. He describes the events leading up to the 200 Finals. He talks about the rapport that he and Peter Norman had all through the prelims and the friendly trash talking that went on between them. Eventually Peter wore the protest button on the podium supporting the black athletes. For this act, Norman was pilloried by his own country, Australia, to the point of not being selected for the 1972 Olympic team even though he was clearly deserving to be on that team. Norman may never have been forgiven, although there were some attempts by the Australian government to acknowledge the mistreatment of aboriginal people during the run up to the Sydney Olympics. Cathy Freeman was quite outspoken about that.
When Norman passed away recently , Carlos and Smith served as pallbearers. Carlos also mentions the public support he and Smith received from the Harvard eights rowing team that represented the US in Mexico City. Carlos never benefitted from his actions. If anything he suffered financially for many years because of them, directly from the IOC, the USOC, and even from a cub reporter's comments about him, one Brett Musburger, who called Carlos and Smith 'black skinned Storm Troopers'. He struggled for years to support his family, he had a gambling addiction, and his wife in despair eventually committed suicide. The last phase of his life has become a better one, and he has been a school counsellor in Palm Springs, CA for many years now.
|The statue on the campus of San Jose Sate University where men's Track and Field is no longer a sport|
|Tommie Smith and John Carlos with Peter Norman's nephew Matt|
Oct. 2, 2016