‘Black Power’ Olympic Saluter To Sell Gold Medal

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Tommie Smith (C) and bronze medallist John Carlos give the black power salutes as an anti-racial protest as they stand on the podium

But not, he insists, because he needs the money.

Tommie Smith, the Olympic sprinter whose political display got him expelled from the 1968 Olympic Games, is selling the gold medal that started the whole controversy.

After winning a gold medal in the 200 meter race at the ’68 games (and setting a new world record in the process) Smith and bronze medal winner John Carlos raised their fists in a black power salute on the awards podium. The men wore black socks and no shoes to symbolize poverty, and a turtleneck and beads to honor the victims of lynchings.

(See the long history of political statements at the Olympics.)

At a press conference following the display Smith explained the reasoning behind the display, “If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say ‘a Negro’. We are black and we are proud of being black. … Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

The move set off a storm of controversy over the suitability of the Olympics as a venue for political debate. TIME called the protest “a public display of petulance that sparked one of the most unpleasant controversies in Olympic history and turned the high drama of the games into theater of the absurd.” The two men were banned from the year’s remaining events, and upon returning home were subjected to death threats.

As explicit racial animus died down in the U.S., Smith and Carlos’ protest gradually has been seen in a more positive light. In 2005, a statue of the pair was erected at San Jose State, their alma mater.

Smith insists that he not in dire financial straights, but that he is selling his famous medal for the money — and because he wants to share it with the public. Bidding is set to open at $250,000. (via USA Today)