Home » Book Reviews » Power stance: the look inside of ‘Silent Gesture: the autobiography of Tommie Smith’

Power stance: the look inside of ‘Silent Gesture: the autobiography of Tommie Smith’

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There are moments in history that rocks the nation — Emmett Till in 1955, the Sixteenth Street Church bombing in 1963 and Mexico City in ’68.

Many people know about Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ stance on the medal stand during the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics but more people may not know the story behind it all.  Smith shared his story in his autobiography, Silent Gesture.

“That was my victory stand,” Smith wrote in collaboration with ‘Baltimore Sun’s’ sports columnist David Steele. “Not because I had won the gold medal in the 200-meter final a half hour earlier, in world record time. … The athletic achievement paved a road toward my quest for a social victory, where everyone would be listening to and watching my statement about the conditions in which my people and I were living in the greatest country in the world.

“My silent gesture was designed to speak volumes.”

The volume that the gesture spoke was so loud that it turned into deaf ears.  That’s what happened to Smith and Carlos after they finished first and third respectively in Mexico City.  Silent Gesture tells of the aftermath and the impact that that one gloved fist did to the life of a 24-year-old college student.

The book tells of the struggle that Smith endured after the Games, from being black-balled out of jobs to the divorce of his first wife Denise to having the people that he thought he could trust turn their back on him.  Written in first person, Smith does an execllent job of conveying the hurt that he suffered for 40 years.

“I hear people wonder why even in the middle of all the accolades can I not let the bitterness go?” wrote Smith. “How? And why?  This has been my life.”

Silent Gesture is more than about athletics — fittingly because what Smith and Carlos did on the stand was about more than just athletics; it was about human rights.  The book is about humanity.

Unveiled in 2005 on the campus of San Jose State University, this statue commerates the silent gestures of Smith and Carlos.


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