A New York City native, John Carlos began his collegiate career at East Texas State University before transferring to San Jose State University.
He developed into one of the world’s top sprinters, winning a gold medal in the 200-meter race at the 1967 Pan American Games and ran the fastest 200 time ever at the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. At the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games, Carlos placed third in the 200, claiming a bronze medal.
But it is what Carlos and teammate Tommie Smith, the 200 gold medalist, did on the Medal Podium that marked their place in the annals of history. Members of the Olympic Human Rights Project, Carlos and Smith stood shoeless on the podium, one arm raised with a black glove to protest the treatment of Black Americans. Carlos also wore beads around his neck to symbolize lynchings of Black men.
Carlos and Smith, their Olympic competition completed, nonetheless were suspended by the International Olympic Committee and expelled from the Olympic Village for politicizing The Games.
The moment lasted less than 90 seconds, but it has reverberated ever since.
“I wanted to do something that would be so powerful that it would reach the ends of the earth and yet still be nonviolent,” Carlos said 50 years later.
Back home, Carlos tried out for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and played one season for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. He eventually found a career as a high school counselor, where his no-nonsense manner came in handy.