Story of the Week: The white man in that photo

Roundup
tags: Black History, Olympics



"John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Peter Norman 1968cr" by Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers) -  Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

Today marks the 9th anniversary of Peter Norman’s passing. We want to commemorate him by publishing this text written by Italian writer Riccardo Gazzaniga, who allowed us to share the story of the Australian sprinter on Griot.

Original text by Italian writer Riccardo Gazzaniga
Translation and comment by Alexa Combs Dieffenbach

Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, and it certainly deceived me for a long time.

I always saw the photo as a powerful image of two barefoot black men, with their heads bowed, their black-gloved fists in the air while the US National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” played. It was a strong symbolic gesture – taking a stand for African American civil rights in a year of tragedies that included the death of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

It’s a historic photo of two men of color. For this reason I never really paid attention to the other man, white, like me, motionless on the second step of the medal podium. I considered him a random presence, an extra in Carlos and Smith’s moment, or a kind of intruder. Actually, I even thought that that guy – who seemed to be just a simpering Englishman – represented, in his icy immobility, the will to resist the change that Smith and Carlos were invoking in their silent protest. But I was wrong.

Thanks to an old article by Gianni Mura, today I discovered the truth: that white man in the photo is, perhaps, the biggest hero of that night in 1968. His name was Peter Norman, he was an Australian who arrived in the 200 meters finals after having ran an amazing 20.22 in the semi finals. Only the two Americans, Tommie “The Jet” Smith and John Carlos had done better: 20.14 and 20.12, respectively....




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