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Olympic civil rights leader John Carlos turns 75

Carlos and Smith, whose birthdays are one day apart, turn 75 and 76 this week

John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the two American sprinters who raised their fists during the 1968 Olympic 200m medal ceremony, are born one day apart – Carlos, on June 5 and Smith on June 6. Carlos whose birthday is today, turns 75 and Smith will turn 76 tomorrow. The pair were once among the fastest runners in the world, but they’re remembered for acts beyond the track. Their raised fisst have now been dubbed as the human-rights salute.

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The pair, who finished first and third in the final, wore black socks with no shoes, signifying poverty at home. They also each wore one black leather glove. As the American national anthem began, they raised their fists together, making a stand against a system that didn’t represent them.

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Following the peaceful protest, the runners were sent home and suspended from the U.S. Olympic team. Due to his Olympic suspension, Carlos would move to Montreal where he played in the CFL as a member of the Alouettes in 1971. It took just over 50 years for Carlos and Smith (who set 11 world records during his career) to be inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame last November.

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Smith and Carlos served as examples for athletes and showed how to use their positions of influence to enact change. The sprinters’ birthdays follow a week of anti-racism protests across the world, calling for equal opportunity for people of colour – the same thing Smith and Carlos were fighting for in 1968.

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