Olympic Gold Medalist & Social Activist Tommie Smith Speaks At RIC Thursday

Rhode Island College Press Release

Providence, RI – Tommie Smith, the gold medal-winning athlete and social activist best remembered for raising his fist in protest against racism and injustice on the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, will come to Rhode Island College for a special event on Thursday, October 20 at 7 p.m. “An Evening with Tommie Smith” will feature him speaking about his life and participating in a question-and-answer session with RIC President Jack R. Warner on stage in the college’s Roberts Hall Auditorium. The event is presented by RIC Athletics as part of its 100 anniversary celebration.

Tommie Smith is an icon, a model of success and courage for athletes everywhere, and we are proud to host him at Rhode Island College,” said RIC Director of Athletics and Recreation Don Tencher. “As we celebrate our legacy of 100 years of being ‘Anchor Strong,’ the legacy of his strength and bravery continue to inspire us.”

Over the course of his career, Smith was a record-setting track and field athlete, wide receiver in the American Football League, activist, author and educator. He won the gold medal in the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympics, and bested teammate John Carlos who won the bronze, while nursing an injury. On the medal podium, Smith and Carlos raised their gloved hands in a historic gesture of Black power, liberation and solidarity. They also wore beads and scarves to protest lynchings and wore no shoes with black socks to highlight Black poverty in America. Smith and Carlos were also founding members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), which had previously proposed a boycott of the 1968 Olympics; that boycott never materialized, but both men, as well as Peter Norman, the white Australian silver medalist, wore OPHR badges on the podium in Mexico City.

Following his athletic career, Smith enjoyed a long career as an educator, author and activist. He served on the faculty at Santa Monica College for 27 years, and was also a coach and athletic director at Oberlin College. He published his autobiography, “Silent Gesture,” in 2007. He was featured in the documentaries “Fists of Freedom: The Story of the ’68 Summer Games” (1999) and “With Drawn Arms” (2020), which tells the story of his Black power salute and its impact. 

Smith has won many awards and been inducted into multiple halls of fame, including the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, San Jose State University Hall of Fame, California Black Athletes Hall of Fame, the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards, and the 2018 Dresden Peace Prize. In 2005, a statue of Smith and Carlos on the podium was erected on the campus at San Jose State, Smith’s alma mater.

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