Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star
Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. (AP Photo/file photo)

Photo Gallery: Carlos says knowledge will help end of violence

SAN BERNARDINO -- John Carlos was the athlete who won the bronze medal in the 200 meter track event for the United States in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

But he is best known for his silent statement -- the raised, black-gloved fist heard around the world, the Black Power Salute.

Carlos's gesture on the Olympic medal stage, as well as a similar gesture by gold medalist Tommie Smith, resulted in suspension for both from the U.S. team and banned them from the Olympic Village.

"In Mexico City, it was like shock treatment - 45 years later we're still talking about it. It's not about beating someone up but waking him up," said Carlos, now 67.

On Wednesday, the former track and field athlete, who has a doctorate in Humanties, inspired an auditorium full of students during an African-American History event at San Bernardino High School.

"The only way to deal with violence is through knowledge," Carlos told the students.

In school, they called him a troublemaker, Carlos remembered. "But if you make trouble like Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, who were also called troublemakers, then I'm in good company."

Carlos met King just 10 days before his assassination and said that even though the civil rights leader's life had been threatened, Carlos saw no fear in his eyes.

Carlos, who lives in Palm Springs, travels internationally, speaking to people of all ages and ethnicities.

His message to San Bernardino teens was: Stay in school, stay focused on education, respect women, stay out of trouble, stay out of jail.

He connected with the young people, his words engaging them.

Marlan Parker, a U.S. History teacher on campus, said that Carlos's appearance was like seeing history come to life.

"He motivated all of us to believe we can make a difference," Parker said.

For Jamal Williams, Carlos's gesture was the ultimate statement.

"He stood up for what he believed in," said the 17-year-old senior, adding that he would take Carlos's motivational words to a track meet with him when he ran the 200 and 100 meter races on Thursday.

"He's against injustice. That's cool."


Reach Michel via email, find her on Twitter @michelnolan, or call her at 909-386-3859.