When Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave a gloved Black Power salute on the Olympic podium in October 1968 it sent a shockwave through sport. But what happened to the other man on the platform?
Forty years ago, two black Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, won gold and bronze medals in the 200m final at the Mexico Olympics, and used their time on the victory podium to protest with a Black Power salute.
The photograph of the two men with their heads bowed, each of them with an arm raised in the air and a fist clothed in a black leather glove, is one of the most striking images of the 20th Century.
Their actions caused havoc at the Games, ensuring the pair were ejected from the US Olympic team. But three men won medals in that race, and the consequences for the third athlete on the podium would be every bit as significant.
The silver medallist was a laid-back Australian, an up-and-coming runner called Peter Norman who, in the words of his coach, “blossomed like a cactus” when he got to Mexico. While observers expected the Americans to make a clean sweep of the 200m medals, Norman kept them interested by breaking the world record in the heats.
An apprentice butcher from Melbourne, he had learned to run in a pair of borrowed spikes. More significantly, he had grown up in a Salvation Army family, with a set of simple but strong values instilled from an early age.
As his nephew Matt Norman, director of the new film, Salute, remembers: “The whole Norman family were brought up in the Salvos, so we knew we had to look after our fellow man, but that was about it.”
In Mexico, that was enough for Norman, who felt compelled to join forces with his fellow athletes in their stand against racial inequality.
The three were waiting for the victory ceremony when Norman discovered what was about to happen. It was Norman who, when John Carlos found he’d forgotten his black gloves, suggested the two runners shared Smith’s pair, wearing one each on the podium.
And when, to the crowd’s astonishment, they flung their fists in the air, the Australian joined the protest in his own way, wearing a badge from the Olympic Project for Human Rights that they had given him.
The repercussions for Norman were immediate. Seen as a trouble-maker who had lent a hand to those desecrators of the Olympic flag, he was ostracised by the Australian establishment. Despite qualifying 13 times over and being ranked fifth in the world, he was not sent to the following Munich games, where Australia had no sprinter for the first time in the Olympics. Norman retired soon afterwards without winning another title.
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This is a scene from the 1905 Australian silent film “The Story of the Kelly Gang”.
It was the first feature length film ever to be made.
What many people don’t know however is that Kate Kelly was, in some scenes, played by a man in drag. This was one of those scenes.
“Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” - Don Watson
If you look at the paintings of the Australian Federation events, the Red Ensign is usually the dominant flag. Many Australian troops in WW1 and WW2 served under the Red Ensign.
I’ve written before about how technology has shaped the ways in which we tell stories. Making sense of the huge amount of information available to us online is a challenging task and often requires specialist skills. In today’s information economy, the role of curators of content has become just as vital as creators.
This insight is not a new one for historians. Writing history involves unearthing evidence and making informed choices about which historical sources to use and which to leave out. Museums and galleries often possess huge collections of which only a small amount (often as little as 1%) can be displayed at one time.
How should we acknowledge that it takes just as much intellectual effort to curate as to create? And if you have curated a new work, based on the work of others, how do you tell the story of your story?
In March I’ll be commencing a PhD in History at the University of Western Australia – which means I will be spending the next three years investigating a research question that keeps me up at night. It’s an amazing opportunity made even better by the fact that the university has offered to support me with a scholarship while I am doing it. I like to think of it as a completely wonderful (but extremely underpaid) new job that just so happens to be equally thrilling, terrifying and the most difficult thing I have ever done.