tommie smith and john carlos

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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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The Story Behind The White Guy In This Historic Photo
In 1968 there was a powerful moment of protest at the Olympic games when two winners put on black gloves to protest what was happening in the country during ...

Sometimes, it’s not about what is best. It’s about what’s right.

There is so much wrong with this picture I can’t even….

But if you want to know why many black lgbtq folks are wary of the mainstream LG movement, here’s a prime example.

A cartoon artist rips off an image important to radical black history, specifically the moment when U.S gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos raised the black power fist during the American national anthem at the 1968 Olympics, all to make a point about how gay marriage is a victory for everyone.

Nevermind that it decontextualizes blackness, black power, and the socio-political atmosphere of the late 1960s in the U.S that would make raising the black power fist during the American anthem revolutionary in the first place. Nevermind that black power was a strike against the white supremacist antiblack status quo. 

Nevermind that this movement has tried to make ‘gay is the new black’ and deeply haphazard parallels between gay rights and civil rights happen that center the experiences of white gay and lesbians while silencing black LGBTQ folks at the intersections.

Does anybody remember the photos invoking Jim Crow segregation to make a point about gay marriage? 

Cause I sure do 

This is why I’m not here for the mainstream

Because it is possible to make a point about gay marriage without being antiblack, without being racist, without erasing folks at multiple intersections of marginalization 

But instead people opt not to, they do something offensive, and then expect the rest of us to shut up and take it 

On This Day: June 5

World Environment Day

  • 1832: The June Rebellion, an unsuccessful uprising by Republicans begins in Paris in an attempt to overthrow Louis-Philippe.
  • 1868: Socialist James Connolly born in Edinburgh. He was an Irish revolutionary and a key figure in the Easter Rising.
  • 1870: Mikhail Bakunin breaks relations with Sergey Nechayev.
  • 1871: Anarchist Michele Angiolillo born in Foggia, Italy. He was a typographer and a proponent of propaganda of the deed.
  • 1873: Proclamation of the First Spanish Republic. Francisco Pi y Margall assumes Presidency. Advocates Federalist program inspired by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, becoming popular among Spanish anarchists. Andalusia and several cities in the southeast establish a libertarian federalism. Pi y Margall is promptly overthrown by Monarchist forces. The town of Carthagène resists a government takeover for several months.
  • 1878: Pancho Villa born in La Coyotada, Mexico. He was a Mexican Revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution.
  • 1906: Leaders of Cananea copper strike in Sonora, Mexico, arrested.
  • 1915: Denmark amends its constitution to allow women’s suffrage.
  • 1919: 67 anarchists are arrested and face deportation in the wake of a bomb explosion marking the beginning of the Palmer raids in the USA.
  • 1919: Winnipeg General Strike: Winnipeg mayor disallows parades.
  • 1919: Merchants and workers strike in Shanghai in support of students in May the Fourth movement.
  • 1925: Mine owners attack striking workers in nitrate mine encampment in La Coruna, Chile. Over 500 workers tortured in Iquique.
  • 1945: John Carlos born in Harlem. He and Tommie Smith made the Black Power salute while on the medals podium at the 1968 Olympics.
  • 1951: The Japanese Anarchist Federation reconstituted this month. Simultaneously, the anarchist communists set up the Japan Anarchist Club (Nihon Anakisuto Kurabu).
  • 1956: The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) is founded at a mass meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • 1963: Protests against the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini by the Shah of Iran. In several cities protesters confronted by tanks and paratroopers.
  • 1966: James Meredith begins a solitary March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. Shortly after starting, he is shot with birdshot and injured. Civil rights leaders and organizations rally and continue the march leading to, on June 16, Stokely Carmichael first using the slogan Black power in a speech. Twenty-five thousand marchers entered the capital.
  • 1966: Mass demonstration in London in support of national seafarers strike.
  • 1967: Israel attacks Egypt and Syria leading to illegal occupation of Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.
  • 1969: 250 imprisoned US soldiers, arredted for going AWOL during the Vietnam War, riot at stockade in Fort Dix over barbarous conditions and torture.
  • 1998: GM workers strike in Flint, Michigan over fears of job losses. Leads to 7 week strike at plants across US.
  • 2005: Spanish militant trade unionist and anarchist. Pepita Carpeña dies in Marseille.
  • 2013: Anti-fascist activist Clement Meric murdered by fascists in Paris.
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Today in Solidarity (12/7/14): Following in the legacy of athletes like John Carlos, Tommie Smith, and Muhammed Ali, black athletes are representing for the struggle. Action big and small have an impact. Glad to see Derek Rose, Reggie Bush, the UM footballers, and others put the message before the money. #staywoke #farfromover

The 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute: African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists in a gesture of solidarity at the 1968 Olympic games. Australian Silver medalist Peter Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in support of their protest. Both Americans were expelled from the games as a result.

I think we as Black women need to stop this obsession with celebrities. It’s holding us back. Especially since they care more about remaining neutral and appealing to mass audiences than standing up and speaking out. They care more about their careers than our Black asses. So many of us worship Beyonce and Solange, but what have they done for the Black community? What have they done to help the people in Ferguson? Solange is in Brazil somewhere on the beach. So let’s be real. She ain’t doing shit except for posting a measly statement on Instagram. That’s about as far her ‘activism’ goes. Everybody’s always trying to paint her and Beyonce as some sort of outspoken feminists yet when it comes down to the wire, neither one uses their resources, which the majority of Black people don’t have access to, to do any tangible work in the community—the publicity stunt with the parents of Trayvon Martin doesn’t count. They don’t know the meaning of feminism and I wish people would stop ascribing radical political identities onto them because they saw the word “feminist” behind Beyonce at the VMAs. Or because she sampled a TED Talk in her song. It it absolutely within the purview of people who buy their music, especially BLACK PEOPLE, to question and critique them without it being dismissed as ‘hating’. They claim to be for us but actions speak louder than words. There have been many great Black men and women celebrities who risked not only their careers but their LIVES during the CRM and Jim Crow—John Carlos, Tommy Smith, Muhammad Ali, Eartha Kitt, the list goes on. If a woman as ICONIC as Eartha Kitt could step to the first lady of the United States and call her out, you’re telling me that Beyonce, Solange, Jay Z, Kanye West, and any others among them don’t have the social responsibility as highly influential Black people with resources untold to do anything outside of social media? Fake revolutionaries for profit. They don’t represent me as a Black woman in America and I don’t support any of them.