Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith

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At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and his teammate John Carlos came in first and third, respectively, in the 200-meter dash. As they received their medals, each man raised a black-gloved fist, creating an image that will always stand as an iconic representation of the complicated conflations of race, politics, and sports. In this, his autobiography, Smith fills out the story around that moment--how it came to be and where it led him.

Smith engagingly describes his life-long commitment to athletics, education, and human rights. He also dispels some of the myths surrounding his famous gesture of protest: contrary to legend, Smith was not a member of the Black Panthers, nor were his medals taken back by the Olympic Committee. Retelling the fear he felt in planning and carrying out his protest, the death threats against him, his difficulty in finding work, and his determination to live his values, he conveys the long, painful backlash that came with his fame, and his fate, all of which was wrapped up in his "silent gesture."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[H]is experiences at the Olympics [are] described so vividly that readers will feel as if they're witnessing it unfold themselves...Smith's candid reflections on life after Mexico City is compelling. Most striking, though, are revelations about the stresses he endured before the 1968 race. For Smith, at 24, to have not only won the gold, but to have issued his anything-but-silent gesture from the world's biggest stage, makes his story all the more extraordinary."
—Black Issues Book Review

“What is the worth of this book? I believe it to be one that accurately portrays Tommie Smith’s life and Olympic ordeal….We have waited a long time for this book. The result is worth the delay….Silent Gesture provides, by far, the most powerful punctuation mark in explaining one of the most historic of all Olympic moments.”
—Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies

Library Journal

Although this book, written with the help of Baltimore Suncolumnist Steele, may go down as an important entry in the history of track and field and African American studies, it is not without its problems. Smith and his San Jose State University classmate John Carlos were the two men who raised their black-gloved fists on the winner's podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City (Smith and Carlos won first and third place, respectively, in the 200-meter dash). The events and the reasoning that led to this famous "gesture" are discussed, as are its long-lasting effects on Smith's life. The fallout from the publicity, along with the hate speak that has daunted him ever since, has made Smith a bitter man. He vents his spleen on many people who passed through his life, including Ronald Reagan, Jim Brown, Jesse Owens, his ex-wife, and his ex-teammate Carlos. He refutes Carlos's description (in his Why?: The Biography of John Carlos) of his (Smith's) role in the events at Mexico City. The result is that the reader may forget Smith's many accomplishments in education and coaching because of the anger expressed on almost every page. Still, an essential purchase for public and university libraries with extensive collections in track and field history.
—Todd Spires

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592136391
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2007
  • Series: Sporting Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Welcome Home     1
October 16, 1968     20
Out of the Fields     42
The Biggest City I Had Ever Seen     73
Run Before You Walk     95
The Coach and the Professor     114
Linked Forever     135
No Gold, No Glove     148
Paying the Price     172
Going Underground     194
Families Lost, and Found     211
It Will Outlive Me     233
Epilogue: Silent and Eternal     255
Acknowledgments     259
Index     261
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