John Carlos

John Carlos

American athlete John Carlos helped draw international attention to the Civil Rights Movement internationally in a political protest at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. Along with fellow athlete Tommie Smith, Carlos gave the Black Power salute during a medal ceremony.

Born in Harlem in 1945, John Carlos showed athletic prowess from a young age. In 1945 Carlos won a  full track and field scholarship for East Texas State University. He also became that school’s first track and field Lone Star Conference Champion. After only one year at ETSU, Carlos was accepted at San Jose State University. Under the tutelage of Lloyd “Bud” Winter, a notable coach who would eventually be inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, Carlos began to thrive as an athlete.

Whilst at college he became involved with the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), an organisation that fought to end racism in sport. The OPHR attempted to organise a boycott of the Olympic games, but other African American athletes were reluctant. Although the boycott did not materialise, John Carlos and Tommie Smith decided to organise another form of protest.

Carlos came third in the 200 metres final. Both athletes received their medals barefoot, wearing only black socks. As the Star Spangled banner was playing, he defiantly gave a Black Power salute with his gloved left hand.

Both Carlos and Smith were expelled from the games and forced to return to America. However, the pair had brought the continuing plight of Black Americans to the world stage - millions saw the silent protest on television.

Carlos and Smith’s reception on their return home was mixed: some African Americans saw them as heroes, while others saw them as unpatriotic troublemakers. However, their actions put civil rights on the international stage. Carlos even met with Martin Luther King only ten days before the civil rights leader was assassinated.

This international fame did not translate into financial gain. Carlos worked in menial jobs just to get by, even using furniture as firewood just to survive.

Carlos had a short career in the NFL after he retired from athletics. He then joined PUMA and worked in LA. He now works as a teacher in a school in California.

In 1998, both Smith and Carlos were honored in a ceremony to commemorate their protest at the 1968 Olympic Games, and the two reunited again at the funeral for Australian runner Peter Norman’s funeral ceremony in 2006.

See also: Peter Norman


MLA Citation/Reference

"John Carlos". 2024. Web.

Key facts

Name: John Carlos
Birth Date: 5 June 1945
Known for: A track athlete and American football player who raised his fist in a Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.