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Activist, athlete John Carlos speaks about racism, activism and personal courage

John Carlos

As a world-class sprinter, John Carlos trained himself to leap like a coiled spring at the sound of the starter gun. In 1969, he ran 100 yards (91.44 metres) in nine seconds flat. 

Yet, his name is forever associated with 1968.  

In a UTSC lecture titled Sport, Race and Protest in November, the 200-metre bronze medalist discussed the personal cost of his social activism and his memoir, The John Carlos Story, which was sold and signed after the 1.5 hour lecture.

In 1968, Carlos and teammate Tommie Smith lifted black-gloved fists in a Black Power salute from the Olympic podium in Mexico City.

Carlos and Smith were members of the U.S. Olympic Project for Human Rights. Their silent act of resistance placed African-American civil rights issues on an international stage. They received death threats and their rising athletic stars fell straight to earth.

Relaxed and engaging in an arm chair on the stage of the Instructional Centre lecture theatre, Carlos charmed the audience of 200 as he told of his childhood dreams to make it to the Olympics, despite the odds.  While other athletes dreamed of fame and fortune. Carlos yearned to be a force for social change.

He recounted stories of his struggles with racism, the impact of the iconic salute and the enduring influence of mentors like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Carlos’s impassioned personal life history account concluded with a call to action, asking his audience to be personally invested in community building and to find the strength and courage to fight oppression in all its forms.

© University of Toronto Scarborough