Black History Month at Sydenham High

To start the final week of our Black History Month celebrations, Mr Catton gave an inspirational assembly centred on Peter Norman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos and the 1968 salute at the medal giving ceremony of the Olympics which, rather than being a black power salute – as commonly quoted, was a global protest for human rights.

Fifty years ago on 16 October in Mexico City, Tommie Smith won the 200m final in a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Norman came second in 20.06 seconds (his time means that he still holds the Oceanian 200 metres record), followed by Carlos. After the race, the three athletes went to the medal podium for their medals to be presented. On the podium, during the playing of the American national anthem, Smith and Carlos famously joined in a salute while Norman wore a badge in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). After the final, Carlos and Smith had told Norman what they were planning to do during the ceremony. They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They knew that what they were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. Peter Norman said, ‘I’ll stand with you’. It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos left his pair in the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.

Despite Norman facing backlash in Australia for his part in the protest, not being selected for the following 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich despite qualifying, and not being invited back in 2000 as a former medal holder, he did not regret his actions as he stood up for what he believed in.

In August 2012, the Australian Parliament gave a posthumous apology and Order of Merit to Norman. A statue is being built in Melbourne to honour him. In a 2012 interview, Carlos said: “There’s no-one in the nation of Australia that should be honoured, recognised, appreciated more than Peter Norman for his humanitarian concerns, his character, his strength and his willingness to be a sacrificial lamb for justice”.

It was a wonderful start to the day, reminding us all to stand up for our beliefs and stand by those who face prejudice and injustice.