Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete

By Amy Bass | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
“That's My Flag”

You do not accrue prestige when you go the Olympics because when you come back you're still a nigger.

—Harry Edwards, San Jose Mercury News, 1967

My whole life flashed in my face. I had two minutes to see everything. Oh man, I never felt such a rush of pride. Even hearing the StarSpangled Banner was pride, even though it didn't totally represent me. But it was the anthem which represented the country I represented, can you see that? They say we demeaned the flag. Hey, no way man. That's my flag … that's the American flag and I'm an American. But I couldn't salute it in the accepted manner, because it didn't represent me fully; only to the extent of asking me to be great on the running track, then obliging me to come home and be just another nigger.

—Tommie Smith, Daily Telegraph, 1993

When the U.S. Olympic track team, seventy-seven members strong, arrived in Mexico, it faced many questions from the international press regarding the political role of the self-proclaimed black athletes on the team. As reporters descended upon the athletes with questions about political militancy, the Americans sang the national anthem in the Plaza de las Banderas in the Olympic Village while Ambassador Fulton Freeman and USOC president Douglas Roby raised the American flag. Although U.S. track coach Payton Jordan assured reporters that there would be “no trouble whatever” and assistant coach Stan Wright insisted “there will be no demonstrations, ” the words John Carlos offered indicated otherwise: “We have no intention of disrupting the Games. But that does not mean we will not do something to accentuate the injustices that have been done to the black man in America…. If I win

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