mexico city olympics

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For Refinery29’s celebration of Black History Month we put together a list of Black men and women you ought to know. Their legacy in civil rights, feminism, and LGBTQ equality lives on today.

  1. Bayard Rustin — A leading Black figure in the civil rights movement and advisor to Martin Luther King, he was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington and was heavily involved in the first Freedom Rides. He was also gay and a registered communist who went to jail for his sexual orientation. Although widely heralded, he was attacked even by fellow activists for his faith in nonviolence, unapologetic queerness, and attention to income equality. President Obama honored Rustin posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
  2. Combaheee River Collective — A seminal Black lesbian feminist group active from 1974-1980. Although officially short lived, its influence has been major. The group is best known for writing the Combaheee River Collective Statement, an important document in promoting the idea that social change must be intersectional — and that Black women’s needs were not being met by mainstream white feminism and therefore must strike out on their own. Members of the collective included Audre Lorde and…Chirlane McCray, now First Lady of New York City and author of the landmark essay “I Am a Lesbian,” published in Essence in 1979.
  3. John Carlos, Tommie Smith, and Peter Norman — The winners of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics 200 Meter Sprint. In one of the proudest and most political moments of sports history, John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their leather-gloved fists in the Black Power salute. They wore black socks without shoes to represent black poverty and a scarf and necklace to symbolize “those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.”

    We also include in our list Peter Norman, the white Australian silver medalist from that ceremony, to commemorate his solidarity with the two Black athletes. White people are more than indebted to black history, and Norman is an excellent example of a white ally. Although he didn’t perform the black power salute, he publicly supported the duo without regard to personal safety or retribution. Norman was penalized for his alliance with Carlos and Smith and was never again allowed to compete in any Olympics despite repeatedly qualifying. Largely forgotten and barred from major sporting events, he became a gym teacher and worked at a butcher shop. At his funeral in 2006, John Carlos and Tommie Smith were his pallbearers.
  4. The Friendship Nine — This group of nine Black students from Friendship Junior College willingly went to jail without bail in 1961 after staging a sit-in at McCrory’s lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina. They pioneered the civil rights strategy “Jail, No Bail,” which placed the financial burden for racist incarceration back on the state. They’re appreciated today for their bravery and strategic ingenuity. In 2015 their conviction was finally overturned and prosecutor Kevin Brackett personally apologized to the eight living members of the group.
  5. Barbara Jordan — A lawyer and politician, Barbara Jordan was the first Black woman elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first southern Black woman to be elected as a US Senator, and the first Black woman to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. Her keynote address is widely considered the greatest of all time, aided by her charismatic and eloquent public speaking skills. She is also remembered as one of the leaders of the impeachment of Richard Nixon. We chose the above quote to illustrate her unique punchy sense of humor.
  6. Pauli Murray — This civil rights activist, feminist, and poet was a hugely successful lawyer who is also recognized as the first Black female Episcopal priest. Like many figures on this list, Murray was acutely aware of the complex relationship between race and gender, and referred to sexism as “Jane Crow,” comparing midcentury treatment of women to that of African Americans in the South. Although she graduated from Howard University first in her class, she was barred from enrolling as a postgraduate at Harvard because she was a woman. Instead, in 1965 she became the first African American to receive a JSD from Yale Law. Once armed with a law degree she became a formidable force in advancing feminist and civil rights. She is a cofounder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She also identified as having an “inverted sex instinct,” which she used instead of “homosexual” to describe her complicated gender identity and lifelong attraction to women.
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Lance Wyman, Olympic postage stamps for Mexico ‘68.

The radiating and colorful lines that extend from the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, at top, and which surround the stadium at the University City of UNAM in Mexico City, below it, provide more than a graphic connection between these two sites. They also refer to the connection established between the pre-Hispanic site and the modernist building between October 11 and October 12, 1968 as part of the events that surrounded the Mexico '68 Olympics. The night of October 11, the Olympic torch was spectacularly received in Teotihuacan after traveling through many parts of Europe and Mexico. The following day, the torch reached the UNAM stadium and was greeted in the midst of a ceremony that commemorated the inauguration of the Olympics. In Alberto Isaac's Olimpíada en México, the torch’s journey is captured beautifully in film. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M00Kgo-mcE

Vista de la entrada principal, Palacio de los Deportes, Ciudad Deportiva, Magdalena Mixhuca, México DF, 1966

Logotipo tridimensional de México 68 diseñada por Lance Wyman, Eduardo Terrazas y Pedro Ramirez Vazquez

Arqs. Félix Candela, Enrique Castañeda Tamborrel, y Antonio Peyri

View of the main entrance, Palace of Sports, Sports City, Mexico City 1966

‘Mexico 68′ three dimensional logo designed by Lance Wyman, Eduardo Terrazas and Pedro Ramirez Vazquez

Jacques Esterel’s French Olympic Uniforms in 1968.
models, wearing the new uniforms of the French Olympic team for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico, walking along a street in Paris with French fashion designer Jacques Esterel, who designed the uniforms, in August 1968.

Villa Cultural, (Villa Coapa) durante la construcción, Villa Olímpica Narciso Mendoza, Anillo Periferico at the Glorieta de Vaqueritos, Tlalpan, Mexico DF 1968

Arqs. Héctor Velázquez, Manuel González Rul, Agustín Hernández, Ramón Torres Martínez y Carlos Ortega

Cultural Village (Coapa Village) during construction,Tlalpan, Mexico City 1968

“Unidad Habitacional Villa Olímpica Libertador Miguel Hidalgo” (Villa Olímpica) y Escultura del estadounidense Todd Williams para la Ruta de la Amistad (Estación N º 9 ), av. Insurgentes Sur, Tlalpan,  México DF 1968

Arqs. Héctor Velázquez, Manuel González Rul, Agustín Hernández, Ramón Torres Martínez y Carlos Ortega

Olympic Village and sculpture by US artists Todd Williams for the Route of Friendship (Station No. 9), Tlalpan, Mexico City 1968

Villa Olímpica para el juegos de Verano 1968 durante la construcción. A la izquierda, el Centro de Prensa diseñado por el arquitecto, David Muñoz. En el fondo, la “Unidad Habitacional Villa Olímpica Libertador Miguel Hidalgo”, diseñado por los arquitectos Héctor Velázquez, Manuel González Rul, Agustín Hernández, Ramón Torres Martínez y Carlos Ortega. Av. Insurgentes Sur, Tlalpan, México DF 1968

Foto. Bob Schalkwijk

Olympic Village for the 1968 Summer Games during construction. On the left, the Media Centre. In the background, the “Olympic Village Housing Unit Libertador Miguel Hidalgo”.  Av. Insurgentes Sur, Tlalpan, Mexico DF 1968