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No, because it called for acceptance of the basis of civil rights, of all civility: an even break. So now, since he had proved himself the best, and since things were to be stacked against him even on the track, he could feel his need ebbing for white society's main prize. "After the 19.7," Carlos says, "I did not care about the gold."
Smith's second-place finish put him safely on the U.S. team, which gathered in Denver to be outfitted before the Games. "There, we learned that Brundage had attacked the black athletes," says Evans. "He said we were lucky to be allowed on the team. If he hadn't come out like that, I don't think anything would have happened."
What happened was one last, poignant meeting. "Imagine the eagles we had there," says Evans. "And we were going to run. But what else could we agree to do? I suggested we run in black socks. Somebody yelled, 'I can't run in any socks.' People were scattered, thinking of the careers they were going to, some to football, some the military."
"It boiled down to a clash," says James, "between the goal-doing good for all mankind—and the gold: the individual's self-interest. There was, shall we say, counseling back and forth to sort out the two."
Then Smith stood. "I hold no hate," he began, "for people who can't make a gesture, whatever the reason. But I have to reserve the honor of Tommie Smith. I'm an American until I die, and to me that means I have to do something. I don't know what I'll do. But we have to make worthwhile this last year."
And there it was left. "We all went out and got haircuts," says Evans.
"I left," says Smith, "wondering how I was going to carry this load alone. The decision to go our own ways eliminated what need I had to protect my teammates, but I knew any protest would risk volatile reaction. I felt one person had to take responsibility for it."
They flew to Mexico City and were bused to the Olympic Village. They saw soldiers and broken glass in the streets. Gasoline trucks carried armed guards. A student demonstration protesting the Mexican government's social policies had been fired upon by Mexican soldiers and riot police. Forty-nine people were killed and several hundred wounded.
As the Olympics began, Smith was a man in search of a gesture. "It had to be silent—to solve the language problem-strong, prayerful and imposing," he says. "It kind of makes me want to cry when I think about it now. I cherish life so much that what I did couldn't be militant, not violent. I'll argue with you, but I won't pick up a gun.
"We had to be heard, forcefully heard, because we represented what others didn't want to believe. I thought of how my sisters cringed because they didn't want me to embarrass the family by describing how poor we were, when we were poor. No one likes to admit flaws, even though it's the first step to fixing them."