Silent and Eternal
THIS TIME, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos returned to San Jose State University, 500 people greeted them with warmth, love, and admiration.
And with a 25-foot-high likeness of them, made of fiberglass, ceramic, and bronze.
On October 17, 2005—37 years and one day after Mexico City, two years and one day after Smith and Carlos gazed upon the model of the statue in a downtown hotel ballroom—the two men sat on a stage set up on a normally serene lawn in the middle of campus and gazed up at the memorial to their sacrifice, at that moment covered by a black tarp. The lawn, bearing the unassuming name of Sculpture Garden—coincidentally, located near the campus building named for Dr. Robert Clark—was not serene on this day. At dusk, it was packed with students, reporters, and onlookers from all across America, and the stage was crammed with speakers, dignitaries, and celebrities.
If the crowd didn’t all share the sense of shock Smith and Carlos felt at the unlikely scene unfolding before them—and some of the spectators indeed were old enough to grasp how improbable it all would have seemed in 1968—it did tingle with anticipation. Living history was present on that stage, and soon a monument to their deeds would be unveiled, in the place where the seeds of it had been planted.
Among that crowd were Smith’s wife, Delois; four of Smith’s five children; his first wife, Denise Paschal; and six of his 10 living brothers and sisters. More of his legacy also sat in the crowd— members of the Tommie Smith Youth Track and Field Club of the Bay Area. That club, and several meets throughout California each year, had come into existence since the statue fundraising ceremony two years earlier.