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Smith worked at the All-American Pontiac dealership in San Jose, washing and detailing cars until his employer, citing Smith's connection with the Olympic Project for Human Rights, let him go. "Meanwhile the hate mail kept coming, the mock plane tickets back to Africa. Someone killed Harry's dogs and left them in pieces. Harry counseled us not to be broken. They'd broken us this way for years."
Black athletes elsewhere were hardly new to mistreatment. Hurdler Leon Coleman was raised in the Roxbury section of Boston, then went to Winston-Salem College in North Carolina.
"Earl Monroe lived across the hall from me," recalls Coleman, who now teaches junior high school in Rocky Mount, N.C. "He and I and some other guys were taken out one night on a social-club initiation. The senior brothers tied us to a headstone in a graveyard. We had to get free and make it back to campus on our own. Well, we'd no sooner gotten the ropes off than we saw a Klan procession through the trees. They must have been coming back from a rally or something, marching in their sheets. We pressed ourselves down behind the wall of that cemetery and froze.
"They passed. We breathed again. We still had to get home. We caught a ride in the only vehicle out that night, a hearse. We pushed the body over, all climbed in the back, and actually beat the guys who'd taken us out there back to Winston-Salem. The stories that night, my lord! It was dawn before anyone could sleep."
And when they did, they had nightmares about the Klan coming upon them a few minutes earlier, when they had been bound and helpless.
In February 1968, the Brundage-led IOC, ignoring apartheid, obstinately readmitted South Africa to the Olympic Games. African and Caribbean nations, Cuba and the Soviet bloc were outraged, threatening to withdraw if the ban were not reimposed. Suddenly it was conceivable that not one black athlete would appear that autumn in Mexico City.
Mexico and the U.S.S.R. pressured Brundage to call a special IOC session in April. There, South Africa was booted again. "It felt good," Smith says. "We had brothers around the world."
And at home. In March, in New York City, Carlos spoke with King. "I felt he'd find support for athletes who boycotted," Carlos says. "He was the only guy who would and could. Edwards was not in any position to do that then."
On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis by James Earl Ray.
Larry James was then a Villanova sophomore from White Plains, N.Y., with a modest best of 47 seconds in the 440. He had looked forward to Villanova's first outdoor meet, at the University of Tennessee.