Killer Mike & Iconic Olympian Tommie Smith Discuss the Past & Current Civil Rights Movements (Video)
In one of the most iconic sports photographs, American Olympian athlete Tommie Smith is seen raising his Black fist into the air in solidarity with his fellow medal winners in a stunning show of solidarity with those back home fighting for civil rights. Nearly 50 years later, and Americans are finding themselves in another Civil Rights Era with many of the same issues dominating conversations about racial politics, police violence, White supremacy, systemically racist institutions like criminal justice, and more. One of the most vocal contemporaries to use his platform as a tool for raising awareness of such matters is Killer Mike, whose sprawling musical repertoire is more and more being matched by his work in politics, and in a new video interview, these two fighters for African-American liberation in the true sense of the word speak with one another in a cross-generational conversation which begs the question – how far have we really come?
Smith first made history by winning the 200m sprint in under 20 seconds at the 1968 Summer Olympic games in Mexico City. Along with John Carlos, Smith wore black gloves during the awards ceremony, bowed his head, and brought Black Power into the living rooms of a global audience. Drenched in controversy, the silent yet overwhelmingly powerful gesture remains a visual touchstone to the African American experience, and just like its Olympic counterpart, there is a Torch being passed from Smith and the Civil Rights activists of his generation to today’s, and Killer Mike is helping to engage even younger activists to learn the history of the movement. That history is on full display in this 20-minute conversation. The two get in-depth about the photograph in question, but more importantly the inspiration behind it.
“Human rights worldwide, no matter where you are,” is something Smith, Carlos, and Australian Peter Norman (also photographed) were focused on as athletes representing their respective countries, Smith shares. His decision to raise his fist in such a way was inspired, in part, by his upbringing. He shares that both of his parents were born in 1912 and that where he was raised “mimicked slavery in many ways” due to the practice of sharecropping which enslaved many African-Americans in a world of indentured servitude. His personal history paints his upbringing and eventual decision to use the platform of his Olympic success to drive home the point that, despite what he was told, athletics and politics do – and sometimes should – mix. As he shares with Mike, “it was the Olympic Project for Human Rights,” he says of the organization formed to protest segregation and racism in sports. “When we got back to the United States, we had already told the world that ‘you need more love. Love is key to existence. Why can’t you love your neighbor?'”
It’s a powerful, inspirational, and beautiful look into the many divergent threads which have been woven into today’s Civil Rights tapestry.