Posts tagged John Carlos and Tommie Smith

History and Public Art

 

I am not sure how I really feel about monuments. I have never been to the Lincoln Memorial and the statues on the campus of UC Berkeley are mostly of old football coaches. But last night I was on the San Jose State campus on my way to a performance commemorating Paul Robeson (who by the way is an amazing civil rights renaissance man) and I saw the most amazing monument/statue/public art I have ever seen. Maybe it was the pouring rain and pitch black sky that added to the power, but I think the power stood on its own. There in the middle of the campus was a towering statue of two men with their fists raised high. It was a monument of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black olympians from San Jose State that shocked the world when while receiving their gold and bronze medals for the 200 meter race in 1968. The two olympians raised their fists, a sign of solidarity with the growing Black Power movement during the star spangled banner. After they were booed off the platform Tommie Smith made this statement:

 “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

Smith and Carlos also were awarded their medals shoeless and in black socks to represent black poverty in America. The image of these two black americans with their fists raised high in protest of racist and hypocritical America is one of my favorites. And seeing a beautiful representation of it last night made me swell with my own sort of pride. Not an American pride that people talked about on the night of Obama’s Election and Inaguaration. This was not about me wanting to pat America on the back for doing what is decent, or for ‘coming so far.’ This was more about being proud of new history, I guess I like the idea of having more public representation of heroes that are not such giants and tokens. And I like the idea of having African-American History be just American History. What Black History has done for this nation, is beyond what I think any other group has done. The Black struggle for freedom, recognition, and respect IS the American story. And the statue that I saw last night, on my way to see Paul Robeson remembered was just such a great feeling for me as a historian, who would like to think that what I do is important.

 

Here is the monument and the real picture of the event:

 

So powerful!

So powerful!

 

Power to the People

Power to the People

  I wish there was more public recognition of the Black Panther Party in Oakland. I know there is talk of making a Black Panther Boulevard and there is  Bobby Hutten park, but a public monument would really be something else.

The powerful display recognizing the contribution that protest has made to our society inspires and reminds us in the present that it is okay to be subversive if their are grave injustices surrounding you in your community. Apparently someone was tasered to death a couple days ago in San Jose. Police brutality is becoming even more grossly and technologically abhorrent. Protest is an obvious tool to show the police and “law enforcement” that the people will not accept this or take it lying down.

And more to come on Paul Robeson, because I do want to be a part of honoring him and explaining to you why he is too one of my heroes.

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