Unsettled Debts: 1968 and the Problem of Historical Memory| The Limits of Smooth Legacies: 1968, Feminist History, and the Tradition of Athlete Activism: An Interview With Amira Rose Davis

Courtney M. Cox


The Olympic Games podium protest of professional athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos is among the most frequently cited moments of 1968. Regarded as one of the most political events in Olympics history, their protest is today often recalled in celebration. In 1968, however, it drew the ire of their stadium audience, their television viewers back home, and the International Olympic Committee. At the time, sports journalist Brent Musberger described Smith and Carlos as “black-skinned storm troopers,” and the two athletes were expelled from the Olympic Village. Both suffered personally and professionally for over a decade until, in the 1980s, a “smoothing” process began to reincorporate the duo into popular culture, recasting them as heroic icons. In this interview, historian Amira Rose Davis analyzes how such smoothing occurs, what gets buffed out, and all that can be gained from focusing on the contributions of Black women when we revisit historical flashpoints like 1968.



athlete activism, cultural memory, social movements, protest, Olympics

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