Tommie Smith to auction gold medal from iconic black power salute
A statue honoring Tommie Smith's Olympic protest against American racism was erected at San Jose State University, his alma mater, in 2005. Image: CC e-magic/Flickr

Tommie Smith shocked the world with a black power salute as he stood on the podium with his gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The gold medal around Smith’s neck at that infamous, iconic moment is now up for auction, along with the shoes he wore setting a world record at 200 meters that earned him that medal. Smith and his teammate, bronze medalist John Carlos, were kicked out of the Olympic Games for their defiant black-gloved salute, but eventually were recognized as heroes for their protest against American racism.

Tommie Smith’s gold medal is worth more than money

Tommie Smith’s gold medal and the track spikes he wore winning the 200 meters in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics are up for auction in New York at M.I.T. Memorabilia. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the bidding starts at $250,000. The black glove Smith wore for his black power salute was lost somewhere in the 42 years that have passed since his historic protest. Gary Zimet of M.I.T told the Mercury News that Smith, 66 now and living in Georgia, is selling the medal for the money, but he also wants to share it and the history it represents, with the public. Some sports memorabilia experts doubt Smith will get as much as he expects from selling the medal. Collector Richard Murray told the Mercury news that Mexico City Olympic gold medals go for $5,000 to $8,000. He said the black power salute could add another $1,000 to $2,000.

The legacy of Smith’s black power salute

After Tommie Smith won the 200 meters in world-record time, he and bronze medalist John Carlos bowed their heads during “The Star-Spangled Banner” and raised their black-gloved fists. The Olympic committee suspended Smith and Carlos from the U.S. Olympic team. Many people were of the opinion that their black power salute disgraced Americans. The athletes and their families received death threats after their protest against American racism was televised. Others, including silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia, applauded them for their bravery. Over time, the pair became recognized as human rights heroes. In 2005, San Jose State, Smith’s alma mater, erected a statue immortalizing the Olympic black power salute. In 2008, Smith and Carlos were honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.



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