Time of fear, violence followed athletes' 1968 Olympic gesture

From Roddy Broadnax of Charlotte:

I read with interest Fannie Flono's article in Friday's Observer and ESPN's plan to honor “Courage and a Silent Gesture” at the ESPY awards.

I am familiar with the Black Power salute as in 1968 I watched the Olympics where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a black gloved fist during the medal awards and the playing of our national anthem. I will never what my dad said as we watched, “You are seeing a real sign of racial divide that will long haunt our country.”

The years that followed that gesture were anything but silent as I experienced first-hand the racial violence and divide that my dad predicted. This all became real when in Rock Hill in 1970, as I entered the seventh grade, [whites were] bused across town to an inner-city middle school. I remember riding my first bus on the first day of school not knowing the horrors that waited in the near future.

We arrived at Sullivan Junior High and were greeted as we got off the bus by 10 to 15 older black students who frisked us for money, took our paper sack lunches, stomped them and hit and shoved anyone who resisted. I clearly remember the faces of the two white female teachers standing on the steps, their faces frozen with fear … they did nothing.

Black Power insignias were everywhere along with red, black and green logos standing for Red Blood, Black People, Green Land. At lunch we had to eat in groups, as those who sat alone were again shaken down for money, hit or surrounded by a group and attacked.

This was only the start, as a visit to the bathroom was “Russian roulette” where groups of three or more black students would punch, slap and hit you in the head with oversized rings, Afro picks, combs and many times would wave pocket knives as you entered and tried to go about your business.

At many school assemblies or sporting events, black students would raise their fists and chant “Black Power” and should you find yourself alone chances are there would be an altercation. It took many years for both blacks and whites to accept each other and slowly become friends in my public school junior and senior high years.

Luckily for me I played sports, which allowed me to build relationships with my black teammates, and I chose to look beyond the racial violence that was part of my life and move forward.

John Carlos said several years later that it was not about “black and white. It was about humanity, faith in God and faith in making it a better world.”

For John Carlos, Tommie Smith and those television executives at ESPN that see the events of 1968 as honorable and courageous I respectfully disagree. And as my dad so eloquently said that night, this was the start of a racial divide in my life that haunted me and others for many years.