Opinion: Inspirational 1968 Olympics moment

PUBLISHED: 08:30 14 June 2020

Captain John Clifton says Ilford Salvation Army has started teaching about white privilege and racism.

Captain John Clifton says Ilford Salvation Army has started teaching about white privilege and racism.


The medal ceremony of the 200m running event at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City provided a seminal image of the Civil Rights Movement.

Two black American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who finished first and third respectively, raised black-gloved fists during the US national anthem as a protest against racial discrimination. The other man in the picture is white Australian Peter Norman, who finished second. If you look closely, you will see an Olympics Project for Civil Rights badge, which Tommie Smith and John Carlos were also wearing.

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Riccardo Gazzaniga, in an article entitled “The White Man in that Photo” records that: “The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights, Peter said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in The Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God.

“‘We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said I’ll stand with you’, remembers John. ‘I expected to see fear in Peter’s eyes, but instead we saw love.’”

Following the killing of George Floyd, we have begun a process at Ilford Salvation Army of education about white privilege and racism. We are a diverse congregation, and we all “get along” – but there is an obligation now to move towards something deeper, which I would call reconciliation.

I am inspired by Tommie Smith, Peter Norman, and John Carlos and pray that this process might lead to deeper relationships. Instead of fear, we are approaching this process with love.

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