The year of 1968 was a year of political struggle, conflict, and change. The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements were particularly influential touching every component of U. S. culture including sport. Historians Johnny Smith (School of History and Sociology, Georgia Institute of Technology) and Ashley Brown (Department of History, University of Wisconsin, Madison) reflect upon the legacies of Black sporting activism including that of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ famous Black power salute during the playing of the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico.
This conversation is not only important in shedding light upon the diverse strategies utilized within the Civil Rights movement, but also in providing an historical context to better understand U. S. Black athlete activism in the contemporary moment.
Dr. Johnny Smith is the Julius C. "Bud" Shaw Professor of Sports, Society, and Technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the history of sports and American culture. His newest book, Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (written with Randy Roberts), illuminates the pivotal relationship between the famous boxer and the Muslim minister. Blood Brothers reveals how Malcolm X awakened Cassius Clay's political consciousness. This dynamic brotherhood, fused together by racial pride and self-determination, transformed the new heavyweight champion--Muhammad Ali--into an international symbol of Black Power. In 2017, Blood Brothers won the North American Society for Sport History Book Award. Professor Smith has also won numerous teaching awards at Georgia Tech and in 2017 the Organization of American Historians named him a Distinguished Lecturer.
Dr. Ashley Brown is a twentieth-century United States historian whose research and teaching focus on African American history, women’s history, and the history of sport. An Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Professor Brown believes that sport is intrinsic to American culture and history, carrying the potential to initiate critical discussions about race, gender, mass culture and media, and labor. Professor Brown is particularly passionate about investigating the journeys of minority and female athletes in country club sports. Currently, she is writing her first book. “The Match of Her Life” a critical biography of the first African American to win titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, between 1956 and 1958.
Dr. Mary G. McDonald, Homer C. Rice Chair of Sports and Society, Georgia Institute of Technology