Towering statues of Olympic medalists.

Olympic Black Power Statue

Field review by the editors.

San Jose, California

The Olympic medal podium will forever be associated with a silent protest made by two San Jose State University student-athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. At the 1968 summer games in Mexico City, Smith won the 200 meters track gold medal, and Carlos took the bronze. On the medal stand, as the Star Spangled Banner played, both athletes bowed their heads and raised their fists in a defiant black power salute (a gesture associated with the Black Panthers, although they weren't members).

The medal stand in Mexico City, transported to San Jose.

They intended to place the world spotlight on human rights, particularly injustice and inequality for African Americans, but that wasn't everyone's first reaction to the political act. They were booed by the stadium audience, and ceremony etiquette mavens around the world were aghast. The two sprinters were expelled from the Games and received numerous death threats.

Over time, their disruption of the status quo evolved to be viewed in a different light. Almost four decades later, in 2005, San Jose State University unveiled a heroic scale tribute -- a 23 ft. tall sculpture of that moment on the medalist podium.

Smith and Carlos were rendered by artist "Rigo 23" in bright ceramic tiles and fiberglass over a steel framework, with cast heads and arms. There are many interesting details recreating the moment in 1968, which was not spontaneous. Each athlete wore a black glove -- Smith on his right and Carlos on his left (they shared a pair because Carlos had forgotten his). Both athletes removed their shoes to reveal black socks, symbolizing black poverty.

The university sculpture conspicuously leaves out the 2nd place medalist, Australian Peter Norman, who was criticized for wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, in solidarity with Smith and Carlos, who also wore them. Norman declined to be depicted in the sculpture, which left the silver medal tier open for photo ops. Visitors can pose and raise a fist.

Olympic Black Power Statue

San Jose State University

Address:
S. 7th St., San Jose, CA
Directions:
On campus, in grassy Washington Square on the south side of Clark Hall. The statue stands where S. 6th St. and E. San Antonio St. would have intersected, if the campus didn't exist.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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