The white man in that photo

The white man in that photo


Italian

Today marks the 9th anniversary of Peter Norman’s passing. We want to commemorate him by publishing this text written by Italian writer Riccardo Gazzaniga, who allowed us to share the story of the Australian sprinter on Griot.

Original text by Italian writer Riccardo Gazzaniga
Translation and comment by Alexa Combs Dieffenbach

Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, and it certainly deceived me for a long time.

I always saw the photo as a powerful image of two barefoot black men, with their heads bowed, their black-gloved fists in the air while the US National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” played. It was a strong symbolic gesture – taking a stand for African American civil rights in a year of tragedies that included the death of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

It’s a historic photo of two men of color. For this reason I never really paid attention to the other man, white, like me, motionless on the second step of the medal podium. I considered him a random presence, an extra in Carlos and Smith’s moment, or a kind of intruder. Actually, I even thought that that guy – who seemed to be just a simpering Englishman – represented, in his icy immobility, the will to resist the change that Smith and Carlos were invoking in their silent protest. But I was wrong.

Thanks to an old article by Gianni Mura, today I discovered the truth: that white man in the photo is, perhaps, the biggest hero of that night in 1968. His name was Peter Norman, he was an Australian who arrived in the 200 meters finals after having ran an amazing 20.22 in the semi finals. Only the two Americans, Tommie “The Jet” Smith and John Carlos had done better: 20.14 and 20.12, respectively.

It seemed as if the victory would be decided between the two Americans. Norman was an unknown sprinter, who seemed to just be having a good couple of heats. John Carlos, years later, said that he was asked what happened to the small white guy – standing at 5’6”tall, and running as fast as him and Smith, both taller than 6’2”.

The time for the finals arrives, and the outsider Peter Norman runs the race of a lifetime, improving on his time yet again. He finishes the race at 20.06, his best performance ever, an Australian record that still stands today, 47 years later.

But that record wasn’t enough, because Tommie Smith was really “The Jet,” and he responded to Norman’s Australian record with a world record. In short, it was a great race.

Yet that race will never be as memorable as what followed at the awards ceremony.

It didn’t take long after the race to realize that something big, unprecedented, was about to take place on the medal podium. Smith and Carlos decided they wanted to show the entire world what their fight for human rights looked like, and word spread among the athletes.

Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.

The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said “I’ll stand with you” – remembers John Carlos – “I expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes, but instead we saw love.”

Smith and Carlos had decided to get up on the stadium wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, a movement of athletes in support of the battle for equality.
griot-magazine-olympic project for human rights badge-peter-norman-white -man-in-that-photo-black power salute2

They would receive their medals barefoot, representing the poverty facing people of color. They would wear the famous black gloves, a symbol of the Black Panthers’ cause. But before going up on the podium they realized they only had one pair of black gloves. “Take one each”, Norman suggested. Smith and Carlos took his advice.

But then Norman did something else. “I believe in what you believe. Do you have another one of those for me”? he asked, pointing to the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the others’ chests. “That way I can show my support for your cause.” Smith admitted to being astonished, ruminating: “Who is this white Australian guy? He won his silver medal, can’t he just take it and that be enough!”.

Smith responded that he didn’t, also because he would not be denied his badge. There happened to be a white American rower with them, Paul Hoffman, an activist with the Olympic Project for Human Rights. After hearing everything he thought “if a white Australian is going to ask me for an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, then by God he would have one!” Hoffman didn’t hesitate: “I gave him the only one I had: mine”.

The three went out on the field and got up on the podium: the rest is history, preserved in the power of the photo. “I couldn’t see what was happening,” Norman recounts, “[but] I had known they had gone through with their plans when a voice in the crowd sang the American anthem but then faded to nothing. The stadium went quiet.”

The head of the American delegation vowed that these athletes would pay the price their entire lives for that gesture, a gesture he thought had nothing to do with the sport. Smith and Carlos were immediately suspended from the American Olympic team and expelled from the Olympic Village, while the rower Hoffman was accused of conspiracy.

Once home the two fastest men in the world faced heavy repercussions and death threats.

But time, in the end, proved that they had been right and they became champions in the fight for human rights. With their image restored they collaborated with the American team of Athletics, and a statue of them was erected at the San Jose State University. Peter Norman is absent from this statue. His absence from the podium step seems an epitaph of a hero that no one ever noticed. A forgotten athlete, deleted from history, even in Australia, his own country.
griot-magazine-peter-norman-white -man-in-that-photo-black power statue san jose-©reddit

Four years later at the 1972 Summer Olympics that took place in Munich, Germany, Norman wasn’t part of the Australian sprinters team, despite having run qualifying times for the 200 meters thirteen times and the 100 meters five times.

Norman left competitive athletics behind after this disappointment, continuing to run at the amatuer level.

Back in the change-resisting, whitewashed Australia he was treated like an outsider, his family outcast, and work impossible to find. For a time he worked as a gym teacher, continuing to struggle against inequalities as a trade unionist and occasionally working in a butcher shop. An injury caused Norman to contract gangrene which led to issues with depression and alcoholism.

As John Carlos said, “If we were getting beat up, Peter was facing an entire country and suffering alone.” For years Norman had only one chance to save himself: he was invited to condemn his co-athletes, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s gesture in exchange for a pardon from the system that ostracized him.

A pardon that would have allowed him to find a stable job through the Australian Olympic Committee and be part of the organization of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Norman never gave in and never condemned the choice of the two Americans.

He was the greatest Australian sprinter in history and the holder of the 200 meter record, yet he wasn’t even invited to the Olympics in Sydney. It was the American Olympic Committee, that once they learned of this news asked him to join their group and invited him to Olympic champion Michael Johnson’s birthday party, for whom Peter Norman was a role model and a hero.

Norman died suddenly from a heart attack in 2006, without his country ever having apologized for their treatment of him. At his funeral Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Norman’s friends since that moment in 1968, were his pallbearers, sending him off as a hero.
griot-magazine-peter-norman-funerals-white -man-in-that-photo-black power salute

“Peter was a lone soldier. He consciously chose to be a sacrificial lamb in the name of human rights. There’s no one more than him that Australia should honor, recognize and appreciate” John Carlos said.

“He paid the price with his choice,” explained Tommie Smith, “It wasn’t just a simple gesture to help us, it was HIS fight. He was a white man, a white Australian man among two men of color, standing up in the moment of victory, all in the name of the same thing”.

Only in 2012 did the Australian Parliament approve a motion to formally apologize to Peter Norman and rewrite him into history with this statement:

This House “recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 meters sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record”.

“Acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the ‘black power’ salute”.

“Apologises to Peter Norman for the wrong done by Australia in failing to send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics, despite repeatedly qualifying; and belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality”.

However, perhaps, the words that remind us best of Peter Norman are simply his own words when describing the reasons for his gesture, in the documentary film “Salute,” written, directed and produced by his nephew Matt.

“I couldn’t see why a black man couldn’t drink the same water from a water fountain, take the same bus or go to the same school as a white man.

There was a social injustice that I couldn’t do anything about from where I was, but I certainly hated it.

It has been said that sharing my silver medal with that incident on the victory dais detracted from my performance.

On the contrary.

I have to confess, I was rather proud to be part of it”.
griot-magazine-Tommie Smith-John Carlos-Peter Norman

When even today it seems the fight for human rights and equality is never-ending, and innocent lives are being taken, we have to remember the people that have already made self-sacrifices, like Peter Norman, and try to emulate their example. Equality and justice is not a single community’s fight, it’s everyone’s.

So this October, when I’ll be in San Jose, I am going to visit the Olympic Black Power statue on the San Jose State University campus, and that empty podium step will remind me of a forgotten, but truly courageous hero, Peter Norman.

The Writer in that post | Message by Riccardo Gazzaniga – added on 13/10/2015

“I have one rule, when I publish a piece in some magazine: let it go, don’t answer to the comments: everyone can have his own idea about what I wrote.

But my article about Peter Norman had an enormous, incredible number of sharings worldwide: 300.000 on Facebook, over 5.000 tweet about it; so I think it’s right for me to leave just one single, public comment to clearly explain some things for which some readers criticized me”.

Some of them said I’m tryn’ to “whitewash” the story. No, they’re wrong, this wasn’t absolutely my intention. When I say that FOR ME Peter Norman is the hero of this story, I’m not looking at the color of his skin: he could be white, black, yellow or a man from the moon, it’s not the real matter.

I’m not a historical resarcher, I’m not an activist, I’m not a journalist. I’m just a writer (or this is what I’m tryin’ to be) and I decided to tell this story to my readers. My piece is not about who was “more hero” or about which country was good or bad or better.

My piece, all of this story, it’s about men and choices. Norman found himself in this historical moment and in just few seconds he made a choice and he had the strongness to repeat the same choice all through the years, even if he was silently sufferin’ alone and he could retreat to save himself.

If you listen to Carlos and Smith public speeches I think you can clearly understand that the real struggle started after that race and that night. And you can listen how grateful they are to this man. Tommie Smith and John Carlos made an enormous thing, they changed the story and finally the whole world recognized their role.

Norman decided in just one moment, and his decision changed and, in some way, destroyed his life. The most impressive thing in this story, for me as a man and as a writer, it’s not about that single night but about the silent strengthness he had to never make one step down. This is not a competition beetween Smith, Carlos and Norman.They ran one against other only in that night of 1968, after they always ran together.

This story is so powerful and has been so shared not because I’m so good as a writer, but because it deeply touches a lot of hearts. Because is a story of sport and courage, friendship and loyalty. It’s a story about the strenghtness of being human.

And all of these things, they have no colour.

The second thing.

Some people from England wrote me, angry because a used the expression “simpering englishmen”.

Yes, I used it. I used to explain another kind of stereotiph, a stupid semplification even I was doin’, when I was younger and I looked at that photo, keepin’ my eyes to those beautiful, strong black men and don’t lookin’ at the white man, like he didn’t exist.

My eyes, like the eyes of all the world, they were all taken by those fist up in the air and I didn’t even notice the color of the uniform, green, instead of the white english uniform. My expression tried to explain how wrong we all can be just takin’ a look at a photo and judge without think.

I think in Italian version my ironic tone was more clear and I’m sorry if someone couldn’t understand it and felt hurt.

The last thing.

I received a lot of thankful and lovely messages through mail and social network from all over the world. I also received some offences, that was predictable.

Yesterday  a young man wrote me this racist message: “Go fuck yourself, dago piece of shit”. I think it clearly explains how still long is this road.

“History doesn’t repeat itself. But it does rhyme” (Mark Twain).

Sorry for my bad english and best regards to all of you.

Riccardo

Read it on Riccardo Gazzaniga’s website

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  • Frederick Green

    I’m Australian (actually Anglo-Italian by birth), I was fortunate to read Riccardo’s piece and was riveted from beginning to end. I myself had not known the story of Peter Norman; I don’t recall anyone ever discussing it. So Riccardo has done a great service to me, personally. I had no time to translate it into English, but you have done such a sensitive, masterly job of it than any attempt of mine would have been lame. So I am deeply grateful to you as well, Alexa Combs Dieffenbach. Ti ringrazio di cuore.

  • Frederick Green

    I’m Australian (actually Anglo-Italian by birth), I was fortunate to read Riccardo’s piece and was riveted from beginning to end. I myself had not known the story of Peter Norman; I don’t recall anyone ever discussing it. So Riccardo has done a great service to me, personally. I had no time to translate it into English, but you have done such a sensitive, masterly job of it than any attempt of mine would have been lame. So I am deeply grateful to you as well, Alexa Combs Dieffenbach. Ti ringrazio di cuore.

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  • Jeremy Britton

    Amazing story about standing up for what is right — even if your own government or country doesn’t support you. Incredible man. #rebelwithacause

  • Doris Stones Edwards

    Such a sad and tragic story, where once again an apology and acknowledgement arrived much too late.

  • Andy Colthorpe

    “The white man is perhaps the biggest hero”? Are you taking the p**s? Is that meant to be a joke?

  • lefthandside

    Beautiful piece, really moving.

  • mrjb3

    “Peter Norman is absent from this statue. His absence from the podium step seems an epitaph of a hero that no one ever noticed. A forgotten athlete, deleted from history, even in Australia, his own country.”

    This is really Sad. He should be remembered too.

  • Francisco

    From Spain… Great post. Thx.

  • boujisboo

    this was an interesting article- but i have to say, this line “Thanks to an old article by Gianni Mura, today I discovered the truth: that white man in the photo is, perhaps, the biggest hero of that night in 1968.” I get your sentiment, but it’s a bit strange to call the relatively unknown white guy who empathises with the people of colour the biggest hero in a picture which is specifically about the people themselves showing solidarity in a time of struggle. It reads like White-Saviour. There is a reason his arm isn’t up- he knew, in that moment it wasn’t about him. He suffered for it and I value his efforts. I’m glad and interested to learn about him and my complaint may seem pedantic or unnecessary, but calling him the biggest hero kind of defeats the point.

  • Excronimuss

    Hello Alexa,
    Firstly, thank you for this article. I enjoyed reading it.
    It paints Australia in a light I have never thought of. The country I live in is far from perfect, but may surprise you in its embrace of many cultures and nationalities. “Apartheid” is not a word I have ever heard applied to it before.
    I wonder if Peter Norman’s shunning had more to do with him making a political gesture at a civil event, rather than what the gesture itself meant.

  • jaseandrew

    Great story of a true hero. Thanks.

  • Richard

    You missed the part where one of the American runners had forgotten his gloves, rather than do it sans gloves Norman suggested they wear the one pair and hold up different hands.

    I can’t remember where he said it, it was in an interview a long time ago… it’s been at least 10 years since I studied it for some subject or other however I also recall that he said he ran so fast because the track had a brand new and very bouncy synthetic track and he trained on grass.

  • MatthewScheller

    Put the man on the statue and tell people this story. It’s as simple as that.

  • DanielinAZ

    Hopefully, when you are at SJSU, you can ask the university to add Mr. Norman to the statue because he surely deserves to be there. Maybe even start a petition to add him to the statue. This way the university will learn of the support and add him.

  • Wolfcastle

    What an amazing story and thanks for bringing it to everyone’s attention.

    One thing though, as an Englishman, I’m surprised you thought of him as ‘just a simpering Englishman’ whatever you think of Englishmen, he is clearly wearing the Australian kit.

  • fauxhawk

    Thank you so much for teaching me about this story!

  • Robert Godden

    Great article.
    However, I think it mischaracterises Australia in 1968.
    In 1967, 90.77% of (white) Australians voted for “Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population'” which effectively ended the treatment of Aboriginal people as inferior by Government.
    What didn’t change was certain bastions of conservatism, and I doubt that the Olympic Committee of many countries would be held up as a shining light for freedom.
    Nevertheless, he was a great figure, and the two black athletes also acted with a dignity and inclusiveness that shows the Olympic committees of both countries for what they were (and perhaps still are).
    It just goes to show, when you get up the nose of those in authority, you are in for a bumpy ride.

  • Ricardo Omar Garcia

    Thank you for your article! I migrated to Australia from Argentina 37 years ago and have loved this land and its people ever since I arrieved with my family as a youth. I find this story sad but at the same time very moving and inspirational. Sometimes people can become blinded by what is popular rather than what is right. Ironically it seems that (in a distorded kind of way) those who fought and defended equality in the USA have become the aggressor (the bullied becoming the bully). I fear that the absence of Peter Norman (today) from that podium at the San Jose State University reveals the cruel reality of continued inequality among people in America. By omitting a true supporter of the course of justice and racial equality (at that pivotal moment in sport’s history) just because he was a “white Australian man” shows me that the band players may have swapped places but the music is still the same! Please, do not take this comment the wrong way for I too have always supported social and gender equality but it pains me to see what Peter Norman had to endure from both sides of the struggle just because he could see beyond the “colour” of their skin while many of those on opposing sides of the argument after so many years still can not see!

  • Random Citizen

    Thank u so much for sharing the knowledge with us .. i really didn’t know that

  • Adrienne Adams-Parboosingh

    I am humbled by this story. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Thundax

    Awesome article Alexa! Great story of true human unity and common struggle.

    So tired of the divisive rhetoric that is hamstringing the progressive social justice movement today.

  • jetjag

    You messed up a bit of the translation, where you wrote ‘“Take one eRachele”, Norman suggested.’

    The original article says that before they went to the podium Smith and Carlos realised they only had one pair of gloves, and that Norman suggested they take one each.

  • Tito Puente

    Excellent piece.

    Thank you, and thanks to all of these brave men.

  • Said in Los Angeles

    A great article. Its disgraceful that Norman was left off of the statue. I’m glad to know that he finally received his due.

  • Telica Randall

    Great article

  • Andrew Pratt

    I am Australian and I have always enjoyed Peter Normans story. In fact we studied him in Australian History as he was a brilliant figure. If only his name was more widely recognised. Perhaps we need an addition to that statue. Peter deserves his step.

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  • Donna Davis

    Informative read. In honor of his participation, perhaps, one day, Peter Norman will be added to that empty space on the sculpture.

  • Bill Geddes

    Wow! Never knew this. Quite a story!

  • Chuck Bentjen

    This is a very good article. It is well written and tells a marvelous story. Unfortunately, when I read the words, “having ran” I was disappointed. The past participle of the verb “run” is also “run.” So the proper phrase is “having run.”

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  • GriotMag

    Thank you Chuck Bentjen. We’ve corrected the error now.

  • GriotMag

    Yes Jetjag, you’re right. We intended “each”. We’ve corrected the word. Thank you.

  • Terry Bullweather

    I have heard Peter Norman’s story before, but enjoyed reading it again. Great article.
    I can understand why Norman was omitted from the statue, and of course why many would wish him to be added to it. I personally would add a plaque to the 2nd place podium explaining who Peter Norman was, but leave it empty. That way visitors can take a moment to stand in his place and take a little time to reflect on his experience of that historic day.

  • seanmartin

    I profoundly disagree. His companions on the podium went on to work in tandem with others in the emerging Civil Rights campaigns. He had to deal with his struggles alone, and yet stayed true to his values all along the way, because it “wasnt about him”. I”m sorry you cant see the heroic in such a gesture.

  • Dana Corby

    Thank you for this powerful and heart-breaking article. I well remember the 68 Olympics protest but like everyone else, I never knew about Peter Norman. What a truly great man!

  • Jesse

    I’ve read elsewhere that this space is intended for others to be able to stand there. While the statue may not represent the man, it presents space for the eternal gesture he committed to that day. If we know the history of that moment, instead of staring at the man, cast in bronze, we can contemplate the immortal gesture of solidarity that the man committed that day, and stand in his place.

  • Alan The_Cat

    I emailed San Jose State University with a link to this article to suggest it.

  • lovelove6

    “that white man in the photo is, perhaps, the biggest hero of that night in 1968.”
    Omg… What a not surprinsing thing for a white person to say about black history…

  • samcozens

    to the author of this beautiful piece, Alexa Combs Dieffenbach:

    I went to college at SJSU and participated in Legacy Tours that tell students and adults about the story and legacy of Smith and Carlos statue. I was told that the 2nd place podium (Peter Norman’s spot) was left blank so that anyone who wishes to stand with these men can do so, just like Peter did. So much strength and honor is represented, and after reading your article, I hope Australia does something to honor their man too. And Alexa, if you make it to SJSU, the tours are amazing but the statue is breathtaking!

  • http://www.urban-society.de/ hassia

    Has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

  • http://www.urban-society.de/ hassia

    Actually, the only people that ostracised him were his fellow Australians, who at that time were engaged in their own segregation. So sorry there are no 2 sides to this coin. Whites were simply aghast that he had the temerity to understand the struggle.

  • Boourns76

    Beautifully written piece.

  • Dwight Antonio Sr.

    Wow! I have Never heard of him, or his story. I salute you Peter Norman.

  • Mark W. Schumann

    All three of those men ran an amazing race. What a great video.

    I agree with the others commenting here; calling the white guy “perhaps the biggest hero” is pretty messed up in this context. Credit where due: Peter Norman acted with tremendous integrity and solidarity, and we owe him great respect. But the story shouldn’t be about him.

  • D Here

    I agree with this point. In 1968, when a lot of white people were condemning Smith and Carlos, there was little or no mention of Norman. But now that they’ve been proven to be on the right side of history, let’s not only mention the white guy, but call him perhaps the biggest hero of that night. I also agree that this was not the intended point by the writer of the article, but this is more than just pedantic, perception matters too. The story of Peter Norman, his struggles, sacrifice and honor can be celebrated without comparison to Smith and Carlos. They are all heroes.

  • Artist Avi

    I agree he was definitely a hero, I wouldn’t say that he was the biggest hero but rather an equal.

  • gazzang

    I saw the actual incident on TV and remember it well. I only heard the story of Peter Norman’s involvement a few years ago. It is sad that he is missing from that statue but in a way his absence makes the statue even more poignant.

  • squatdog_nz

    So much disinformation in one article.

    Norman wasn’t even punished for the incident and went on to work in sports administration. From his eulogy in The Guardian:

    ” But the Australian team’s chef de mission, Julius “Judy” Patching, resisted calls from the country’s conservative media for Norman to be punished, telling the athlete in private, “They’re screaming out for your blood, so consider yourself severely reprimanded. Now, you got any tickets for the hockey today?” Patching seemed mystified as to what the fuss was about, though he did warn the athlete to be careful.”

    “After recovering, he worked for the Melbourne department of sport and recreation. He was active in athletics administration, Olympic fundraising and the organisation of major events like the 2000 Sydney Olympics.”

    “At a reception before the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Australian runner John Steffenson, who is black, wore a tee-shirt emblazoned with the 1968 photo, telling the press Norman was his boyhood hero. Norman later presented Steffenson with an autographed copy of the picture, and Steffenson won the 400m Commonwealth gold medal.”

    Also, the level of discrimination in Australia wasn’t even remotely close to the extreme racism of Segregation-era America, let alone Apartheid South Africa.

    Why ruin a perfectly good story with these kind of bare-faced lies?

  • Mike Sharp

    No-one is saying this man isn’t a great guy. But why commodify his actions as being greater than those of two men who raised their arms in anger. Maybe he should have raised his too?

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  • mzpw2015

    Actually, many people suffered “alone” during this particular time in history- many communities battled for their right to be seen & respected. Yes, Norman made a great, incredible move by standing in solidarity, but are you able to understand the greater purpose behind the gestures and movement of ALL THREE athletes at that time? Before we pass the hero crown off to Norman for doing what’s right, maybe you should take some time to really learn & understand the significance of this moment in history.

  • mzpw2015

    This was an excellent piece. However, I have to ask- why do you consider P. Norman to be the “true hero” of this moment for doing what’s right?

  • Cyndy Bradfield

    The aboriginals in America were treated just as badly and there has been no apology. If you were ever to teach in a Metro school you could see what bullies the culture has created. Unfortunately a lot of it is fueled by hatred not a desire for fairness.

  • Alb

    I also enjoyed the anecdote but why do we white people always have to make sure to centralize the story of other white people? “…the biggest hero of that night”…seriously?

  • Lauryn Brown-Mendoza

    I don’t know why some are offended that Norman is being called a ‘hero’ in this article. Do you feel like calling him a hero takes away the struggle and the work black people have put into their cause? Are we that fragile and insecure?

    Smith and Carlos celebrated his life and honored his death. The actual 2 people who were there with him at the dais see him as a hero. We should too. It doesn’t make us less in any way.

  • Sandra Barker

    I’m Australian and I want to thank you for the story. I was only 13 and involved with athletics in 1968. I knew what the gesture meant at the time and I was mystified by Peter’s suspension because his gesture seemed so low key. I had no idea about what happened to him afterwards, until now. The picture of the African Americans carrying the coffin brought a tear to my eye. I wish the artist who created the statue with missing Peter could authorise a replica to be situated in Canberra, our nation’s capital, to honour the memory of his fighting spirit.

  • Sandra Barker

    Yes. It’s a brilliant concept.

  • Tanya Riches

    He hasn’t been forgotten. There’s a lot of street art in the inner west that incorporates that image.

  • Sandra Barker

    I don’t agree with the statement that “whites were simply aghast ..” I was 13 in 1968 and I was horrified about what was going on in the US with segregation. The sad part is how far removed we were from it in Australia. At the same time many of us were feeling empathy for African Americans by following assassinations in the news, and rushing to see Sidney Poitier movies, many of us who lived in the cities were largely kept in the dark about what was happening to the Aborigines. Most of us had never met an Aborigine. We were totally colonized by the sanitized version of history being taught here back in those days. I was taught in primary school that Aborigines were savages running naked in the Australian desert somewhere. We were taught that Britain was the “mother country” and our national anthem was “God Save the Queen”. We understood the struggle in America because it was always in the news but we talked about it all being “over there”. We might have been “engaged in our own segregation” but it was largely by stealth and our geographic isolation from the rest of the world. We saw the Vietnam War on black and white TV and it was never discussed in our classrooms at the time. We understood the issues. In man ways, the Peter Normans of Australia taught many of us how to stand up for what we believed instead of conforming to our own ignorance. Every country still has its rednecks. Please don’t put every white person in that category.

  • Parker

    As an Australian, I am saddened that for all of its goodness, our nation has a tendency to cut down its high achievers. Quite apart from the nobility of Norman’s courage, he was the highest achieving male sprinter the country has known and it unfairly prevented him from competing at Munich. That’s a shameful thing, exceeded only by its treatment of its original inhabitants and migrants not of Anglo Saxon ethnicity.

  • Sandra Barker

    Yes, the ‘apartheid’ word left me aghast in relation to Australia, but in reality we did have apartheid but it was hidden in government policies of segregation. Apartheid is a word that entered the English lexicon via South Africa. It is usually mostly associated with South Africa; however, we had South Africans working here in government roles from the early 20th Century. The notorious Mr AO Neville (Mr Devil) portrayed by British actor, Kenneth Brannagh, in the film “Rabbit Proof Fence” was a real person who was imported from South Africa in the 1930s to be “Chief Protector of Aborigines”. We did have apartheid but most of us didn’t know it as that because if it was mentioned at all it was called “segregation”.

  • Sandra Barker

    He definitely needs to be remembered in Australia.

  • Sandra Barker

    How about just adding one of those plaques alongside the sculpture to explain the artist’s concept, which invites people of all nations who visit there to stand with Peter?

  • Wanja Muguongo

    Would an Aboriginal Australian think about the country in the same way you do? Chances are the reason you haven’t heard the country described with words like Apartheid is because the describing is done by white people. Are you speaking about the country that described it’s native population as part of the flora and fauna?

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  • GriotMag

    Thanks for letting us know. In fact in the original Italian version it was included. Unfortunately it escaped our notice. Thank you again.

  • Mike D

    It wasn’t his fight but joined them in their fight. That takes more courage in my opinion. You obviously can’t see that.

  • Jethro Brice

    Thanks for sharing this story – it’s really powerful. But if you don’t
    mind me asking – why the need to make Norman “the biggest hero”? The
    whole article reads as though Norman’s experience was somehow more
    valid, more heroic, more real, than Smith and Carlos’ experiences. What
    Norman did was brave and powerful and he deserves to be celebrated. But
    why make him out as heroic white saviour when what he himself was doing
    was standing in *solidarity* with a bigger struggle? Not leading it,
    just standing alongside it because he believed that was the only right
    thing to do.

    Sure, I understand that – sadly – for many white
    readers Norman’s story might be easier to identify with than those of
    Smith or Carlos, and that gives this story power to reach white readers
    and shake us. That’s a great reason to tell it – but why not tell it in a
    way that doesn’t privilege white protagonists yet again, but instead
    reminds us just where we ought to place our words and deeds and lives at
    stake along with those who have less choice about whether or not to
    stand and fight?

  • Steve Fairclough

    Agreed on the reason his spot was left blank – I read that in one of the books released by Tommie and John

  • Steve Fairclough

    Norman wanted the space left free for others. The absence does not reveal cruel reality – it shows wonderful humility

  • http://twitter.com/KnowWildFood Dylan Gordon

    It doesn’t seem to me that boujisboo is suggesting he wasn’t heroic. Just that calling him the *biggest* hero is inappropriate. Why not “a forgotten hero?” “Also a hero?” No, he must be the best, biggest, most hero.

    I’m sorry you can’t see the problem with calling the white guy standing by in an action led by black people “the biggest hero of that night.” Especially in a story about anti-racism.

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  • http://www.urban-society.de/ hassia

    I did not mean to lump all white people into a category, however Australia is a white country, and it is they who ostracised him..

  • http://www.urban-society.de/ hassia

    What exactly has to be approved???

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  • Vormulac

    “I even thought that that guy – who seemed to be just a simpering Englishman”
    Ignore for a moment the racist slur; you write off an Olympic silver medalist in terms you find to be satisfactorily derogatory?
    “GRIOT – Sharing. Inspiring. Spreading culture” Really??

    Pathetic.

  • Floyd Robinson

    Fabulous idea, the plaque, and empty podium for individuals to stand up on, and reflect!

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  • Riccardo Gazzaniga

    I have one rule, when I publish a piece: let it go, never answer to the comments, everyone can have its own idea about what I wrote. But my article about Peter Norman had an enormous, incredible number of sharin’worldwide, so I think it’s right for me to crearly explain two things for which some readers criticized me.

    Some of them said I’m tryn’ to “whitewash” the story. No, they’re wrong, this wasn’t absolutely my intention and I think some comments explain how still long is this road. When I say that FOR ME Peter Norman is the
    hero of this story, I’m not looking at the color of his skin: he could be white, black, yellow or a man from the moon, it’s not the real Matter. My piece, this story, it’s about choices.

    Norman found himself in this historical moment and in just few seconds he made a choice and he had the strongness to repeate the same choice all through the years, even if he was silently sufferin’ alone and he could
    retreat to salve himself.

    If you listen to Carlos and Smith public speeches I think you can clearly understand that the real struggle started after that race and that night. And you can listen how grateful they are to this man. Tommie Smith and John Carlos made an enormous thing, they changed the story and finally the whole world recognized their role.

    Norman decided in just one moment, and his decision changed and, in some way, destroyed his life.

    The most impressive think in this story, for me, it’s not about that night but about the silent strengthness he had to never make one step down. My piece is not about who was “more heroic”.

    This is not a competition beetween Smith, Carlos and Norman. They ran one against other only in that night of 1968, after they ran together.

    My piece is not about black or white, it’s about humanity and strongess and loyalty. And they have no color.

    THE SECOND THING
    Some people from England wrote me, angry because I used the expression “simpering englishmen”. Yes, I used it! I used to explain another kind of stereotiph, a stupid semplification even I was doin’, when I was younger and I looked at that photo, keepin’ my eyes to those beautiful, strong black men and don’t lookin’ at the white man.

    My eyes, like the eyes of all the world, they were taken by those fist up in the air and I didn’t even notice the color of the uniform, green, insted of the white english uniform. That expression tried to explain how wrong we all can be just takin’ a look at a photo and judge without think.

    May be in the Italian version my ironic tone was more clear. Sorry for my bad English.

    Best regards to all of you.

  • Nicholas Holsey

    I’m a San Jose State University alumnus, there is a plaque there saying
    something along the lines of, “Australian runner Peter Norman stood here
    in solidarity” or something to the effect. The story I heard is that
    asked not to be added, so that people could stand there in solidarity.
    I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but it makes sense.

  • ginevsky

    And you are not I am guessing.

  • LaCec Sainti

    I am classified as “white”, and I wouldn’t say that. I’m pretty sure you can find people classified as “black” saying the same. In that case you would say they are alienated or self-hating.

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  • William Carter

    What does it mater if Mike is white or not? The point is that he stood up for something he didn’t even have to stand up for, and by no means was his fight. But he realized it was wrong, and stood up against it. I’m so sick of people being defined by their color. You can be sky blue pink with purple polka dots, if you are a respectable human being, you should be treated as such.

  • sdube

    A plaque to the second place podium, and Norman’s statue in front, so that whoever stands in his stead, looks at him, never forgetting, while commemorating the two champions besides.

  • Michael1959

    Did you read the article? The world is not confined to our United States borders.

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  • paridell

    You may be comforted to know that when filmsforaction.org reprinted the article, they changed “the biggest hero” to “the third hero”. This was “to more accurately reflect our own editorial views.” They still couldn’t spell “amateur”, though.

  • paridell

    The writer clearly has no idea of what Australia was like in 1968, but as an Italian who has most likely never been here, he may be excused. In contrast to yourself!

  • Hebes

    Good article, and impressed with what he did – good on him. But Id like to know if the author considers William Wilberforce a ‘simpering Englishman’. That short of bs spoils it.

  • Hebes

    Exactly

  • youds

    The framing of this article is really not ok. I’m pretty sure you should you should apologize by taking it down. “Sometimes photographs deceive”??? It’s totally ok to tell the story of the third man in this photograph but not ok whatsoever to call him more of a hero. This is racist.

  • Nickscribe

    Excellent article about a courageous stand against racism. What a shame the author had to spoil it with a racist/homophobic comment about how he thought Norman was just “a simpering Englishman”.

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  • dentabill

    Okay everybody, don’t forget, slavery was BAD! America was BAD! Everybody got it? Or should we reflect some more?

  • Phil Jones

    Fascinating article. Not sure the line about assuming Norman was just a ‘simpering Englishman’ is quite in the peace, love and anti-prejudice spirit so well exemplified by this unsung hero.

  • Radu Constantin

    A statue of Norman on 2nd place in Australia, in front o their Olympic Centre Main Entrance.. and a complete statue, with all 3 athletes..or maybe just with him…

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  • Jasmina Jz Sinanovic

    why wasn’t it his fight??? is fight against racism not fight of all of us? or do you only fight oppression if it hurts you but if it benefits you – you embrace it.

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  • bluelight

    an correction is in order here, Australia was never an Apartheid state let alone worse than South Africa. Sure Australia had problems with racism but to say it was a Apartheid state worse than south African is disingenuous and inaccurate.

  • Drapetomaniac

    “the biggest hero of the night”?

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  • wallace williams

    I’m a black man and I couldn’t agree with you more. I was only 5 years old at the time and could only remember the iconic pose on the podium, but it still sends chills up my spine and I’m very proud of all three of the men for their stance on human rights! By the way, I am a San Jose State alumi!

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