At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, gold and silver medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads, closed their eyes and raised their fists in the air symbolizing black power.
By their actions, the American sprinters made the medals ceremony the most famous of all time and achieved a milestone in the American civil rights movement.
Smith wore a black glove and black scarf calling attention to black pride, and black socks, calling attention to black poverty.
A man who would hold 13 world records was suspended from the United States national team and banned from the Olympic Village. In addition, he received death threats.
Later, Smith became track and cross country coach and physical education professor at Santa Monica College. He has been at the school for 27 years, but last week he announced his retirement, effective at the end of the summer. Smith will leave Los Angeles, too, and move to the south with his wife, Delois.
“He brought stability to the track program and has been an outstanding role model and mentor,’’ said SMC Athletic Director Rhonda Hyatt.
“He has been an excellent recruiter who could retain students.
“He and [football coach] Robert Taylor were interim athletic directors before I was hired and he became a wonderful mentor to me. He’s a man with good wisdom who provided vital support.”
Every season wasn’t outstanding for Smith’s SMC teams but he enjoyed the experience enough to stay for nearly three decades.
“In a long career there are ups and downs,” said Hyatt. “But he has enjoyed working with the students.’’
Smith was a full-time faculty member but his replacement will be a part-time employee. Hyatt hopes to hire a new coach by mid-August when track athletes arrive on campus to begin the next semester.
It will not be easy to replace a legend.
Smith was born in Clarksville, Texas and barely survived pneumonia as an infant.
He entered San Jose State College on a basketball scholarship but soon concentrated on track under the direction of Coach Bud Winter and became a worldwide personality.
He became controversial but in recent years has been recognized for his accomplishments.
In 1999 Smith received one of his most prestigious honors, being elected to the Bay Area Hall of Fame in Northern California, joining Steve Young, John McEnroe, Joe Kapp, John Elway and Willie Shoemaker, among others.
The event was held 30 years after the 1968 Olympics and included a surprise participant, Peter Norman of Australia.
Smith won the 200 meter gold medal and Carlos the silver medal at the Mexico City Olympics. Norman, who is white, won the bronze medal and was the other participant in the medal ceremony.
Actually, a stronger protest was planned in 1968 as Smith and Carlos worked with sociologist Harry Edwards. An all-out boycott was discussed but never materialized.
There have been other recent honors for Smith. San Jose State College plans an honorary doctorate and will unveil a statue of him.
SMC honored Smith and other retirees at its annual Recognition Breakfast last Wednesday.
Carlos played pro football in Canada for two years and has been a counselor at Palm Springs High for 18 years.
Carlos spoke out about the actions of himself and Smith at the Olympics.“Athletes are human beings,’’ he said. “We have feelings. How can you expect someone to exist in the world and not have something to say about injustice?”