When 50,000 people — many young, many poor, overwhelmingly African- American — marched in
A legend in Track and Field — he’s a world record holder in the 100-yard dash and a member of the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame — Dr. Carlos made history with his black-gloved first salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics alongside Tommie Smith. As a teenager in
“It’s the old demons,” he told SI.com. “The old demons of race relations that perpetuate it appears to me that only did they not die, but that they have resurrected themselves through out the
Carlos feels a sense of frustration with “ministers” and “so-called leaders of the black community” as he puts it, who show up for the big protests in places like
Dr. Carlos said he felt the need to speak after the marches in
He feels a certain joy in seeing people respond to injustice with action, not apathy.
“I understand why we marched in
And yet Dr. Carlos feels a sense of melancholy that there even needs to be a Civil Rights movement in the 21st century. “I can’t believe we still have to be marching,” he said. “I can’t believe how injustice has taken root and has become normal. It appears that there is a message being sent that we can’t go anywhere, aren’t worth anything.
And that’s not just black people. It’s brown people. It’s poor white people. It’s the millions of our kids who go to school every day in the wealthiest country in the world and don’t even have books. We are raising a generation with no knowledge, no chance. If people are products of their environment, we are in a great deal of trouble. We see no money for books but they keep building these prisons.”
He also worries about the limits of protest to ensure lasting change.
“Now 50,000 people marched and that young man is still in jail,” Dr. Carols said. “We need to have our eyes on the prize. We need our young people also hitting them where it hurts. Not just marching, but figuring out ways to do the unexpected. In 1968, that’s what we did. You have to do what’s contrary to norm to give them something to think about. We have to give them something to think about because we had the audacity to act. I want to see people marching on the courthouse. I want them using their minds to do the unexpected, to make people in power think long and hard about the weight we are carrying.”
What makes Dr. John Carlos formidable is that he refused to live his life as an icon, a museum piece to be dusted off when Olympics or anniversaries roll around. He wants to be a voice for change in the here and now. He wants to use his reputation to be heard. It’s an example and a lesson for today’s athletes to note. “We’re not on earth to be robots,” he said to me several years ago. “Whether people like it or not.”
[Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome (Haymarket Books). He can be contacted at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> ]