BY Frank Lombardi
DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU
Friday, April 24th 2009
No one held up their fists at this ceremony.
Scorned four decades ago for their famous Black Power salute at the
1968 Olympics, track greats John Carlos and Tommie Smith were
applauded this week as they received City Council proclamations
hailing their "achievements and their courageous contributions to the
civil rights movement."
The proclamations - and those for two other African-American track
Olympians from the same era - were awarded at a poignant ceremony
before Wednesday's Council session.
The homage was sponsored and arranged by City Councilman Charles
Barron (D-Brooklyn), a former Black Panther who is often embroiled in
racially charged controversies. His proclamations bore eight
sponsoring signatures, none from a white Council member.
But Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who has
occasionally clashed with Barron, took part in the ceremony.
She praised the four Olympians as "inspirational Americans" who
"helped move our country - not to where it should be yet - but to
move our country forward."
Carlos, 63, who was born and reared in Harlem, said it was great to
"come to your city and be recognized for something . . . [it] took
some time for people to realize that we weren't as bad as they might
After he and Smith, 64, a Californian, won medals at the 1968
Olympics in Mexico City, they stood on the victory platform and bowed
their heads during the flag raising and national anthem.
Each also extended an arm and black-gloved fist in a Black Power
salute meant to protest the racism of that era. Photos of that act
can still stir emotions.
In accepting his proclamation, Carlos said, "We would hope that you
understand that we weren't concerned really for the black race as
much as we were concerned for the human race."
Also honored was Vincent Matthews, 61, of Queens, winner of a gold
medal in the 1972 Olympics in Munich with the 4x400-meter relay team.
He and another medal winner talked to each other during their victory
ceremony, which was taken as another protest and led to their
expulsion from the Games.
The fourth proclamation was awarded posthumously to Larry James, who
died in November at age 61 at his home in Galloway, N.J. He won a
gold medal in 1968 with the 4x400-meter relay team. He did not take
part in the protests that turned his teammates into track pariahs.
James' widow, Cynthia, accepted the proclamation, saying, "If he was
here, I believe he would say to you, 'Run the race to win.'"