At the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, US athletes who had medaled in the 200-meter sprint, raised their hands to protest racial discrimination among their Black brethren. This brave act of activism during a time of Civil Rights unrest catapulted both of them into fame but also caused them great turmoil.
This graphic novel memoir is co-written by Derek Barnes and Tommie Smith, who was one of the two medalists. He chronicles his hardscrabble youth, as one of twelve children of a sharecropping family in Texas. As a child, his family moved to California hoping for better opportunities, and there his athletic talent was discovered. Smith was a triple threat, excelling in football, basketball and track, but he later concentrated on track once he was offered a college scholarship. A star at San Jose State he gets involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and he and Carlos decide to take a stand when they know all eyes will upon them at the Olympics. This was a sacrifice, as both were blacklisted by the white establishment, but heralded as heroes in many other circles. He endured additional discrimination for raising his fist for justice, but his later years and family life was just skimmed over in this narrative. It has only been in recent years that his sacrifice has been honored, with numerous awards and a statue of him and Carlos erected on the San Jose State campus.
The artwork by Dawud Anyabwile was kinetic, perfect for showing Smith’s active lifestyle. Illustrated in black and white, with dot matrix used for shading, the art captured the real-life people and era very well. It was reminiscent of the style used in John Lewis’s memoir March, which I believe has inspired other stories such as this one and George Takei’s, They Called Us Enemy.
As this event occurred before my birth, I was not fully aware of the significance, although I’ve seen the picture before, but didn’t know the full scope of the story. I hope this excellent memoir brings this culturally relevant story to the front of a new generation’s eyes and they can learn of the many painful contributions that others made for them!