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Olympic hero gives speech for Black History Month

PUBLISHED: 16:23 09 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:29 07 September 2010

Tommie Smith

Tommie Smith

OLYMPIC legend and civil rights movement hero Tommie Smith launched Black History Season in Camden this week. Mr Smith and fellow black sprinter John Carlos made history with their salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, highlighting the fight fo

OLYMPIC legend and civil rights movement hero Tommie Smith launched Black History Season in Camden this week.

Mr Smith and fellow black sprinter John Carlos made history with their salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, highlighting the fight for civil rights and racial equality.

Now the gold medal winner, whose 200m record held for 20 years, has brought his story to Camden, telling school pupils about the motivation behind his silent protest and the need to stand up and fight for human rights.

At the launch of the season at the British Library on Tuesday, Mr Smith said: "Mexico City wasn't just a spur of the moment thing, the work for human rights started long before. We can't afford to not stand up. I used to be sitting where you are now, looking up at people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

"Young folks, you especially, have a responsibility. Martin Luther King started the relay and we have to stand up and take the baton from him."

Mr Smith flew from the US to launch the programme, entitled 1968:08, which celebrates 40 years of black history.

Speaking to the Ham&High, Mr Smith said programmes such as the season run by Camden Council were essential not only to black people but to anyone concerned with human rights.

"A lot of people didn't like it [the Black Power salute] because they believe politics is not a part of sport and sport is not a part of politics, but only ignorant people think that. There is no way sport doesn't have political overtones."

When Mr Smith made his silent protest it turned much of white America against him.

He and Mr Carlos were banned from further competitions, their families were targeted, their lives threatened and they were treated like outcasts.

Notably though, Mr Smith says this life as a second-class citizen was much the same as it was before he left for the Games. And he has never regretted his decision.

"That image is history and always will be a part of history so I almost see it outside myself.

"To not stand up would have been to shame my mother and father and all the other people treated like them - for all the millions in the world I wouldn't undo that moment.

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