Tommie Smith, Wyomia Tyus, Harry Edwards visiting Penn State on April 3

On Oct. 16, 1968, the Olympic medals podium for the men’s 200-meter dash in Mexico City became the backdrop for one of the most iconic sports moments and one of the most memorable symbols of protest in modern history.  Nearly 50 years later, three individuals intimately linked with that event will visit Penn State to discuss the impact of that historic moment then and now.

Olympic gold medalists Tommie Smith and Wyomia Tyus and noted sociologist and civil rights activist Harry Edwards will participate in a panel discussion titled “Sports Protest and Politics: Reflections on the 1968 Olympics” at 6 p.m. on April 3 in the Greg Sutliff Auditorium, which is located in the Lewis Katz Building on the University Park campus at Penn State.  The event is free and open to the public. 

Smith won the men’s 200-meter dash at the 1968 Summer Olympics in a world record time of 19.83 seconds – the first time the 20-second barrier was broken legally. As Smith and fellow U.S. Olympian and 200-meter bronze medalist John Carlos stepped to the podium to receive their medals, they took off their shoes to protest poverty; they wore beads and a scarf to protest lynchings. As the national anthem played, each lowered his head and raised a black glove-covered fist in a salute that forever changed the world.

The podium salute was part of a protest planned by the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), an organization co-founded by the two Olympians and Edwards, among others. Smith, Carlos, and Edwards, who were track-and-field teammates at San Jose State University, helped establish OPHR to protest against racial segregation in the United States and elsewhere (particularly Rhodesia and South Africa), and racism in sports in general.  OPHR initially had advocated for a boycott of the 1968 Olympics, but support for a complete boycott failed to materialize.

Tyus was a four-time Olympic medalist and the first athlete – male or female – to win the 100-meter dash in consecutive Olympics (1964 and 1968). Shortly after Smith and Carlos staged their protest during their medal ceremony, Tyus was part of the women’s 4x100-meter team that also won a gold medal in world record-time.  Although the female athletes had not been asked to participate in the protest, Tyus felt compelled to be “more than an athlete” – and did so by wearing black shorts to the podium to accept her medal, and by announcing she was dedicating her medal to Smith and Carlos after she received it.

The panel presentation by Smith, Tyus, and Edwards is sponsored by the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts and Department of History as part of its Moments of Change: Remembering ’68 initiative.  “Remembering ’68” features a yearlong series of panel discussions, movies, lectures, and other programs throughout the year designed to give individuals a better understanding of, and greater appreciation for, events that took place in 1968 and how they helped shape America and the world since then.  Additional information about “Remembering ’68,” including a three-credit course being offered this semester, can be found online at 1968.psu.edu.

The event coincides with the national release of Tyus’s memoir, “Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story,” which was co-written by Tyus and Elizabeth Terzakis.  The Penn State Bookstore will have copies of the memoir, as well as books written by Smith and Edwards, available for purchase outside the auditorium following the panel presentation.

Co-sponsors for the event include the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and Racial Disposability and Cultures of Resistance, a Sawyer Seminar Series by the Department of African American Studies.

Media Contacts: 

William Hessert

Work Phone: 
814-865-9988

College of the Liberal Arts

Last Updated March 22, 2018