Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Death of 'a brother'

Peter Norman died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 64. He was the Australian athlete who won silver in the 200 meters at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but was more famous showing his support for the other medalists – African American atheletes Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) – in their 'Black Power' salute on the winners podium.

It was a powerful act that the two African American athletes had planned to highlight the demand for civil rights for African Americans, and an enduring moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. What is less known is that Peter Norman supported them by wearing a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) when he joined them on the podium. Also, according to
Norman is also the one who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute; it was originally planned for Smith to don both.
I heard ABC Radio current affairs show AM interview John Carlos this morning, who was understandably quite upset. Asked how he will remember him, the thing that stood out most in Carlos's description of Norman is where he called him 'a brother' – what I perceive as possibly the highest honour an African American who was in the struggle for civil rights could give a white man. It signifies Norman's – a priveliged white man – solidarity with African Amercans' civil rights struggle. Unfortunately, it's something that's possibly lost in translation today. Pity. Vale, Peter Norman – a brother.

[Image by AP via Wikipedia]

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