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Silent Gesture

The Autobiography of Tommie Smith

Tommie Smith and David Steele

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and his teammate John Carlos came in first and third, respectively, in the 200-meter dash. As they received their medals, each man raised a black-gloved fist, creating an image that will always stand as an iconic representation of the complicated conflations of race, politics, and sports. In this, his autobiography, Smith fills out the story around that moment--how it came to be and where it led him.

Book Cover

Smith engagingly describes his life-long commitment to athletics, education, and human rights. He also dispels some of the myths surrounding his famous gesture of protest: contrary to legend, Smith was not a member of the Black Panthers, nor were his medals taken back by the Olympic Committee. Retelling the fear he felt in planning and carrying out his protest, the death threats against him, his difficulty in finding work, and his determination to live his values, he conveys the long, painful backlash that came with his fame, and his fate, all of which was wrapped up in his "silent gesture."


"This is a book about principle, commitment, belief; and consequences. And the consequences of consequences. Tommie Smith says his gesture was done in the name of human rights, and in these pages, he offers himself up, in the fullest-the complexity, the scars, the pain, and the affirmation of his own humanity. Should there ever be an appointed time, would that I might show half the commitment and courage. Bravissimo!"
—Delroy Lindo, Actor


"In a season of discontent and tragedy, at a time when there was so little reason for hopefulness, Tommie Smith refused to be cowed. Risking nothing less than their futures, he and John Carlos made a statement that could not be ignored. Finally, Smith tells us his story, a story as significant as any ever told by an athlete. Silent Gesture will be invaluable to anyone who hopes to understand a turbulent time and an act of true courage."
Jeremy Schaap, author of Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics and Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History

"Smith is an important figure in the history of American sports, and deserves a forum to tell his story his way."

About the Author(s)

Dr. Tommie Smith is the only man in track and field history to hold eleven world records simultaneously, and the first man in Olympic Game history to win a gold medal in record-breaking time in the 200-meter, under 20 seconds. He has been an educator, and track and field coach for 40 years.

David Steele is a sports columnist for The Baltimore Sun.

Introducing Tommie Smith

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