clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The story behind this iconic Olympics protest

Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s 1968 US national anthem protest, explained.

Coleman Lowndes is a lead producer who has covered history, culture, and photography since joining the Vox video team in 2017.

The image of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City is an enduring image of silent protest. But the key to understanding it goes beyond the black-gloved fists.

All three medal winners, including silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia, wore buttons that read “Olympic Project for Human Rights.” The Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) was a coalition of prominent athletes formed in 1967 that threatened to boycott participating in the upcoming Olympic Games to draw attention to systemic racism in the United States.

OPHR founder Harry Edwards (center) with star sprinters Lee Evans (left) and John Carlos (right), 1968.
© Ted Streshinsky/Corbis via Getty Images

The group, led by professor Harry Edwards, ultimately voted to compete in the games and hold their demonstrations there, which led to the now-iconic display on the medal stand following the men’s 200-meter final. This act got Smith and Carlos kicked off the Olympic team, but it left a lasting legacy about making political statements through sport.

Watch the video above to learn more about the OPHR. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube.