My youngest son, Cole, excused me from his graduation from high school to attend the Glen Mills’ Jamaica Invitational Track Meet June 11 in Kingston, Jamaica , IF,…….I took him with me to the U.S. Olympic Trials later in June. He wanted to watch the trials and continue his training with Jason Richardson, Lashawn Merritt, and Mike Berry. He is a 400 meter runner and wanted to train for his A.A.U. Championships Meet later in July. His mom took him to the graduation and I took him to the Trials. One night we were sitting in the television lounge at the Eugene Hilton Hotel talking as he was star gazing as the various athletes and coaches he had read about passed through . During that time a tall, thin man, with a greying beard and hat jauntily cocked on his head, sat down with and exceptional air of authority and power. He looked at my son and said:
Young man, your father and I go back a very long way. I still remember him giving Sam Perry coaching instructions at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden when I was a kid. I heard him tell Sam something about his start just before we were all going to get in the blocks for the 60 yard dash. I tried it, and it worked out and I got into the finals. I said to myself, “Hmmm, this cat knows what the hell he is talking about.”.
At this point I interrupted and said:
John, I still remember them introducing you,…..”And in lane 3 is John Carlos, Metropolitan A.A.U. sprint champion !”.
Yeah I was only a teenager then. It was the middle 1960s in the old Madison Square Garden up on 9th Avenue and 50th Street.
I chimed in with:
Yeah I remember the Paramount Hotel as the athletes’ hotel, on 46th, between Broadway and 9th Avenue. We could walk a block and be right in the middle of Times Square with all those lights and people walking around. Up the street a few blocks was Birdland, dubbed the jazz corner of the world. I remember going down the stairs into the club and hearing Miles Davis when he still had Coletrane with him. He had Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on angel head bass and I don’t remember if it was Philly Joe Jones or Lewis Hayes on drums. The place was packed. But this was years before the race your are referring to.
Yeah, well what I am referring to is listening to you telling Sam what to do and he later ran 6.0 for 60 when that was the world record. That was in the middle 60s. You and I been knowing each other every since. I been listening you since then too.
I looked over at my son and was disappointed because I did not think he was impressed enough having John Carlos sitting there talking with us,….saying good thing about his father. I said to him:
Cole, do you know who this IS ?
Yeah dad, I know, John Carlos. He and Tommie Smith protested at the 1968 Olympics Games in Mexico.
I still was not impressed with his apparent lack of being impressed:
Cole, what these guys did was a very brave and courageous thing. They had every right to think that someone would try to assassinate them. They had already killed Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, two more niggers wouldn’t have been anything.
At this point John took over:
Look, we got all sorts of threats and stuff. We got stuff even before we got to Mexico because there was just even talk of a boycott by the blacks. Looked like the only support we got from whites was Peter Norman, the Australian who was second in the 200, and the 8 white guys on the Harvard crew team. Peter was a very special guy. He wore the Human Rights pin and stood right up there with us with it on. Tommie and I attended his funeral a little while black. He was a very special white boy.
John, tell Cole about what happened when you went from New York to East Texas State:
Man,…you talk about culture shock !! That was culture shock !!! When Kim, I was already married when we got there, ….when we got off the plane and the head coach met us and that was the first time I heard the term nigra came out of his mouth. He didn’t say nigger,… he said nigra. I had never heard it before, but I assumed it was a soft way to say nigger and I knew we had to get the hell out of there. We stayed a year and met Art Simberg and went to San Jose State. It was called Speed City at the time because of all the sprinters they had there.
At that particular time, there was a lot of real heavy civil rights and human rights stuff in the air. It was so thick you needed a butcher knife to cut it. They had all the assassinations, the Viet Nam mess, sit-ins, protesters being attacked with hoses and dogs, people being put in jail for no damned reason. To be frank with you, it was not a time that America can be too proud about. That was a time of real gangster violent killing and shit. except it was not gangsters,……it was the police !
John, tell Cole some of the specifics that motivated and prompted you to do what you did:
In fact there were two things that really triggered the right response in me. When I was a kid up in Harlem, I idolized Malcom X. I followed him around as much as I could,..just like a lost puppy. When I asked him if I could just be around him he just said one thing to me. ” John if you want to follow me you have to be – a real man.”. I knew exactly what he meant and I tear up and want to cry every time I think about him getting killed. I know if I had been with him when he got killed, it wouldn’t have happened.
The whole Black Boycott of the Olympics idea actually started with Tommie in the fall of 1967. He was in a meet in Japan, and after the meet a Japanese reporter asked him if there was a possibility that there could be some sort of civil disobedience or boycott by blacks going into the Mexico Olympics. Tommy said yes there was a possibility for that to happen. Then the whole thing grew from that story and Harry Edwards and others took it and ran with it. But what the final deciding thing for me was from the time I met Dr. King. He had been at an event in New York and late that night I sat down next to him and we talked about the dangers associated with protesting and all the stuff he was doing. I asked him straight up, point blank, “Dr. King are you afraid ?”, and he looked me back,…straight into my eyes and said “no”. I looked hard back at him. I looked as deep into his eyes as I could and I did not see any fear. I did not see any FEAR. From then on it was a lock for me. These two men were the reason I was not scared when I did what I did in Mexico City.
John, some of this real meaty stuff you are telling us and is not in your book. It should be in your book:
Look man, the good stuff will be in the next book. Right now I am trying to let your son know what was going on back in ’68 and how it all went down. We got several new generations running around out here since then and they don’t know nothing about no sit-in, no freedom march, no protest,…. no nothing man ! My next book will give the real inside shit about what really went down and what they can expect if they don’t watch out. That racist shit ain’t gone no where. Some niggers thought that because they got a few jobs that the shit went away. The only thing it did was go underground. But I can see it surfacing again and when it comes back it will be worse than ever because there ain’t no Malcolm X or Dr. King out there to lead us in the struggle. I want your son and every one like him to understand. I want them to understand man !
My son is finishing his second week of college at the University of California – Berkeley. Across the San Francisco Bay and South is San Jose State, the university John and Tommie attended. Just up Route 101 from San Jose State is the headquarters of the San Francisco Forty Niners NFL Football team. Kolin Kaepernick, a quarterback on the football team refused to stand for the National Anthem recently and set off a firestorm of reaction and response,.. most of it negative. While accepting the fact that he had an inalienable right to not stand in muted protest, most accused him of being disrespectful of the American military that is dying on an almost daily basis to protect his freedom and right to protest. In explaining what he was doing, Kaerpernick stated that he was sitting down in order to stand up and protest the kind of oppression and lack of freedom that certain people in the society were experiencing every day.
In the constitution of the United States what Kaerpernick did is defined and protected as an inalienable right. That means several things. #1 in exercising this right, he does not have to ( nor should he feel compelled to ) leave the country as a consequence of his protest. #2 the U.S. military, at shooting and the dying level, is disproportionately represented by the demographic in whose behalf he was protesting. #3 this right does not carry with it a limit or constraint based upon income level or social and/or political status. It is what it says it is, an INALIENABLE right with prima facie status. The fact that in exercising this inherent American right, Kaepernick brought to light a very uncomfortable and inconvenient political, social and economic reality, should not be used to attack him. What needs to be attacked are the unconstitutional and un-American conditions and circumstances that are integral in the message he was sending. Attacking him does nothing to solve the problem. Attacking Kaerpernick just allows people to cover up the guilt and discomfort they feel at being reminded that America is not America for everyone.
Having met Carlos, I hope my son is that much better prepared to understand and react to the Kaerpernick phenomenon in all of its myriad and arcane forms and disingenuous disguises. There is going to be a hell of a lot more,…. before we are going to see a lot less.
Brooks T. Johnson