The White Man in That Photo

Posted by on January 9, 2016 in Activism, Conscious Living with 13 Comments

By Riccardo Gazzaniga | MindUnleashed.Org

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.

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 as 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 third hero of that night in 1968. His name was Peter Norman, he was an Australian that 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 award ceremony.


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  1.' Cynthia Ballinger says:

    Great information in never knew. I was almost in tears.

  2.' Liz Johnson says:

    Patricia Charrada

  3.' Chris McGinness says:

    It’s been known here in Oz for years. There is a mural in Newtown, Sydney of it, sadly, the railways put a sound muffling fence in front of it but it is still there.

    Peter was treated atrociously.

  4.' Shari Belanger says:

    such an amazing story

  5.' Ellen Ordoyne says:

    History is so screwed up due to hatred. “Will it ever be rewritten.” I ask myself often. Every now and then I’ll come across an article like this that gives me hope that the children of World will remember the truth of the Human Growth over ignorance and hated. Thank you.

  6.' Simone Cumming says:

    Thanks for sharing Chris great story – would never have known about it otherwise.

    •' Chris McGinness says:

      It’s opppsite MacDonaldtown station.. You can see the top of it. The railways were considering trying to get it viewable again…

  7.' Tupu King Agafili says:

    I don’t think that’s deceiving. More like being uninformed.

  8.' Nicholas Mansour says:

    Somebody drop this fool

  9.' Michael Kowalewski says:


  10.' Mike Dalton says:

    You never know what goes on. What a man. Would I be able to walk in his shoes just for one day? I don’t know! I would like to think that I would do the right thing as Peter did. Thanks for awaking his memory. It’s important we learn!

  11.' Marie Calow says:

    Have read this before but it is worth a share every time. His courage is inspiring.

  12.' Loyd Hawkins says:

    What a truly courageous man. All three of the men on that podium showed enormous courage and grace.

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