Olympic Black Power Statue

San Jose, CA 95112, United States

By Ben Loomis – DSC_9441.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73875056

During their medal ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on October 16, 1968, two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, each raised a black-glove fist during the US National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” While on the podium, Smith and Carlos, who won gold and bronze medals in the 200-metre event of the 1968 Summer Olympics, turned to face the US flag and held their hands up until the anthem was over. In addition, Smith, Carlos, and Peter Norman, an Australian silver medalist, wore human rights badges on their jackets.

The demonstration is considered to be one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympics. African-American athletes wanted to draw global attention to the plight of people of color in the U.S., highlighting the injustice and inequality suffered by millions of black Americans. In 2005, the athletes were honored with a sculpture depicting their famous gesture by their alma mater, San Jose State University.

In 2005, San Jose State University honored former students Smith and Carlos with a 22-foot-high statue of their protest titled Victory Salute, created by artist Rigo 23.  A student, Erik Grotz, initiated the project; “One of my professors was talking about unsung heroes, and he mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos. He said that these men had done a brave thing to advance civil rights, and yet he was talking to one of my professors about unsung heroes.

Those who come to see the statue are allowed to take part by standing on the monument. Peter Norman is not included in the monument so that the viewers can be in his place; there is a plaque in the empty spot inviting those to “Take a Stand.” Norman asked that his space be left empty so that the visitors could stand in his place and feel what he felt. The bronze figures are shoeless, but there are two shoes at the base of the monument. The right shoe, the bronze, the blue Puma, is next to Carlos, while the left shoe is behind Smith. The artist’s signature is on the back of Smith’s shoe, and the year 2005 is on Carlos ‘s shoe.

The faces of the statues are both realistic and emotional. “The statue is made of fiberglass stretched over steel brackets with an exoskeleton of ceramic tiles.” Rigo 23 used 3D scanning technology and computer-assisted virtual imaging for men’s full-body scanning. The track pants and jackets are a mosaic of dark blue ceramic tiles, while the stripes of the track suits are detailed in red and white.

In January 2007, History San Jose opened a new exhibition called Speed City: From Civil Rights to Black Power, covering the San Jose State Athletic Program “from which many student athletes have become internationally recognized figures as Civil Rights and Black Power movements have reshaped American society.”


This amazing historical landmark is just one of the many must-see landmarks you don’t want to miss in San Jose, California:

  • Peralta Adobe-Fallon House Historic Site
  • Luis Maria Peralta Adobe
  • César Chávez Family Home 
  • History Park
  • James Lick Mansion
  • Winchester Mystery House
  • St. James Park – San Jose History Walk Marker #23
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Steam Locomotive #1215

All of these wonderful landmarks are located just a short distance from our location located at 3880 South Bascom Avenue in San Jose, California! Stop by for a visit anytime!