John Carlos: A Voice for Generations


Samuel Magana

18 October, 2019

John Carlos: A voice for Generations


Chapman University recently hosted an event honoring civil rights leader, John Carlos. In a notably private event, John Carlos spoke of his past experiences leading up to the infamous 1968 Summer Olympics protest, which included run-ins with the law and moral values taught by his parents. During the speech, he admits that rebellion was in his blood since childhood. 

In his speech, he speaks of his rebellious nature in New York. He specifically tells the story of how caterpillars invaded the streets of where he lived. According to Carlos, these caterpillars were abnormally large and hung in trees. The major issue about these caterpillars was they would latch onto whoever came across these trees, creating a deep rash. He complained to the police department over the disturbance created by these caterpillars; however, the officials would not take him seriously due to his young age. He then burned the trees to kill the caterpillars and was sent to court. He later explains how his father gave him respect for standing up for what he believed in. 

John Carlos was a world-class runner who participated in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. After coming in third place in the race, with a black glove, he raised his fist in the air. The motion was a call to the Black Panther Party, a controversial civil rights group that was gaining traction in the United States at the time. Tommie Smith, the first place winner of the race, also raised his fist while Australian runner Peter Norman wore an OPHR (Olympic Project for Human Rights) badge. Avery Bundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee at the time, disapproved of the action.  The event was seen as a critical moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

After his speech, I decided to ask him a question. I asked him, “Because of our changing society and government, how has the fight against racism changed?” He responded by saying the fight hasn’t changed, but the perception of the fight has. He continued by stating that social media has made people more aware of the issue, and our youth should spread more awareness. 

I contacted Mrs. Read, the counselor for the class of 2022 at Anaheim High School, on her experience as John Carlos’s student during her time being part of the track team at Palm Springs High School. 


Me: So what was John Carlos like personally?

Read: He was very mellow. He was my coach in high school for track. And he was very laid back and very encouraging. 

Me: That’s great. What would have to be your favorite memory of him? 

Read: Telling us how he did the protest in the Olympics.

Me: So, in your opinion, how important was his protest at the Olympics?

Read: It’s huge. I mean, to this day, we need more of that with all the issues that we’re experiencing in our society. I think that there’s still a big disparity in how people are treated based on color and gender and all of that. So for him to do that, it was really influential. 

Me: What was your opinion of Carlos during your time as a track and field runner?

Read: I was kind of in awe of him because of his background. I felt very motivated by him. I mean, he was just a good person. And he made that clear through his actions.

Me: Has he impacted your life after your experience with him?

Read: I mean, yes, in the way that he brought recognition to issues that we have in society. But it actually makes it more impactful now that you guys have seen him and you’ve heard him talk, right?

Me: Yes.

Read: Yeah. And now, you’re asking me questions about him, so it just renews my motivation to keep striving for human rights.

Me: That’s great. Obviously, not many of us young people can be seen at such a large stage as the Olympics, but what do you think we can do to raise awareness over racial inequalities?

Read: I think to talk to people and encourage others to talk about what’s going on. I mean, for example, if you have friends who are let’s say white and they don’t understand the difference in how people are treated, tell them. Like I have a friend who does that, and I didn’t even notice that. Little things like that can add up so that people are more aware. 

Me: Okay, thank you.