1968 – the year things came to a head – the year of confrontation and questioning; the year it all changed.
The Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s was continuing – coupled with social changes and a strange political climate. We were knee deep in the Vietnam War, a war that increasingly relied on young men from inner cities to fulfill troop allotments. A year where leaders were assassinated and anger spilled over into the streets. A year that almost brought down a country, a year where the gap in generations grew further and further apart and a year where even the Olympics became grounded in controversy.
This documentary, produced by BBC Radio 1, concentrates on the climate and social atmosphere around the 1968 Summer Olympics and the now-iconic image of runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the awards ceremony, giving the clench-fist/Black Power salute. A gesture that was viewed all over the world and brought the message home that, to be Black at the Olympics or in any sports, meant you were a First Class Athlete but a second class citizen when you left the playing field.
The gesture on the awards platform resonated with Black Athletes as well as Black Youth all over America – it was, by John Carlos’ own admission; a show of solidarity and a refusal to accept what had been the status quo only days before. That in 1968, attitudes and conditions had changed. And even though the gesture wasn’t met with universal acceptance, even within the Black community, it was a signal there was no turning back. From that point on, there were going to be changes – changes in attitude and changes in spirit.
As a reminder of that pivotal moment, and also by way of giving you an idea of how the rest of the world is looking at what America is all about and always has been – here is that 1/2 hour documentary; Black Power, as it aired over BBC Radio 1 in 2004.