In 1968, Tommie Smith stood on the Olympic podium with a gold medal around his neck and a black-gloved fist raised above his head.
Tuesday evening, Smith spoke to a crowd of students, parents, faculty and residents at Miami University Hamilton’s Parrish Auditorium about what it means to strive for something in his speech, “My Stand, Your Challenge.”
“I felt like my life was in a little ball,” Smith said of the famous moment. “It got so quiet, I could almost hear the wind blowing around the little glove.”
While his speech frequently touched back to his stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games, it largely revolved around ideas of motivation and non-conformity in today’s world.
The speech is part of a lecture series presented in honor of the Miami Hamilton’s 40th anniversary. All of the speakers have spoken about the 1960s and specifically 1968, the year Miami Hamilton was founded.
“I liked (Smith’s presentation), realizing … what the situation was (like) back in the 60s and how much of an impact that relatively simple gesture made around the world,” chemistry professor Jerry Sarquis said.
At the time of the 1968 Olympics, there was talk among black athletes of boycotting the Olympic games because of the racial inequality present in the United States. Instead of boycotting the games, Smith and other members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, decided the best course of action would be to leave it up to the athletes.
Smith said they decided to express how they felt about a country that did not represent them fully.
“It made America, at least I believe, re-evaluate … where we stand,” Bob Meckley, visiting assistant professor of history, said.
Although most know Smith from his stand, his speech talked largely about today’s youth and the changes they can bring about in society. Smith encouraged students to always express their true opinions and resist following the group mentality if they disagree.
“Our youth … it’s our responsibility, for future bridges, and we must continue the construction of strong pillars of strength that can withstand the catastrophic social dysfunctions,” Smith said.
Since 1968, Smith has taught elementary school, middle school, junior college and is now a professor of sociology at the University of Santa Monica in California.
Also as part of the 40th anniversary celebration, Miami Hamilton will bring in Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh Oct. 23. Hersh is known for his reporting of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.