Black Power Day

Peter Norman & The Smith/Carlos Black Power Salute
Peter Norman (left) & The Smith/Carlos Black Power Salute
(Image source: Flickr via Wikipedia)*

Today (16 October) is the 45th anniversary of the infamous (yet under-appreciated) ‘Black Power salute‘ at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

One week ago (9 October) was the anniversary of Peter Norman‘s funeral in 2006 – a day that has been formally recognised by the US Track and Field Federation as Peter Norman Day, a day when Tommie Smith and John Carlos arrived from halfway around the world to deliver heartfelt tributes at Norman’s memorial service.

Peter Norman was ostracised, dismissed, abused and overlooked for the rest of his days, after having stood side-by-side with Carlos and Smith for a passing moment on a podium while they enacted their protest against racism and in support of civil rights equality.  Imagine the intimidating nature of the situation that Norman found himself in…  And his cool response was to throw his support behind the protest, in a most appropriate and respectful manner.

Peter Norman did four amazing things on that day in 1968 – 1. when made aware of the impending protest action, he responded by saying “I’ll stand with you”; 2. he sourced, whilst en route to the medal ceremony, an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge from a US rower to reinforce his show of support for the Smith/Carlos protest; 3. he suggested that Carlos and Smith share the one set of black gloves they had brought to the podium; and 4. he stood there, solemnly and selflessly.

Even as late as the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he was not considered by the Australian Olympic organisers for any involvement in those Games; his ‘crime’ (against the state, against White Australia, against ‘common decency’) was still considered so heinous that the opportunity to celebrate Peter Norman’s sporting and social legacy was passed up.  Instead, the World was treated to Australia’s patronising promotion of its own cringe-worthy ‘culture’ and a fleeting ‘celebration’ of indigenous culture and history.

In his own country, Australia, Peter Norman is recognised by a solitary piece of street art (the picture at top of this post) which is mostly obscured from view by acoustic barriers beside a rail line, and it was only 6 years after he had died that the Australian government held a debate about whether there should be a posthumous apology to Norman for the treatment he received in the years after the Black Power salute.

For me, today is Peter Norman Day in Australia.  We should celebrate and remember him.

* – originally posted to Flickr by Newtown grafitti at http://flickr.com/photos/28713775@N02/4853066906, used under Creative Commons license, and with thanks.

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