Who’s afraid of John Carlos? Perhaps the better question s: “Who Is John Carlos?” That question popped up just days ago when Carlos and sports writer, David Zirin, visited the Occupy Wall street encampment in Manhattan, New York. A 20-something woman, was asked could Carlos give a few words of support to the energetic gathering.
The woman blanked on the name, and Zirin, rather than launch into an extended explanation, stood sideways, thrust his fist into the air, and bowed his head. The woman looked at him, and Zirin noted. “Her face lit up.” Oh. Ohhh! John Carlos–that John Carlos! Dr. John Carlos, who made an indelible mark on sports and history in the heat of Mexico City in 1968, along with his partner, Tommy Smith, got on the “People’s Mic” of the voices of thousands, and gave a simple, yet powerful message: “I am here for you” (echoes of a thousand voices); and then, “Why? Because I am you.
We’re here 43 years later because there’s a fight still to be won. This day is not for us but for our children to come.” And then, one of the 2 men who rocked the world both by racing like the wind and by standing with black gloved fist, no shoes, and red, black and green “freedom beads” after winning an historic race and Olympic medals, left the flashing cameras, and plethora of camera phones, to return to his relatively quiet life. Zirin has just put out a delightful book, authored by Dr. John Carlos, entitled simply, John Carlos Story (Haymarket, 2011).
From his Harlem youth, to his pivotal 5 minutes on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics, and then to a life where almost every national institution tried to conspire to destroy both he and Smith, personally, psychologically, financially and professionally, we learn that dissent still has serious costs in the so-called ‘land of the free’. I won’t spoil the story for you, but Dr. Carlos is a man of extraordinary will and determination and the book captures it, with humor leavened with heartache.
If you’re into sports, track and field, the history of the ’60s or the Black Freedom Movement, this book will both delight and infuriate you. If enough people read it, perhaps a young woman, in her ’20s, will never again have to ask, “Who Is John Carlos?”