Tommie Smith began life quietly, born to Richard and Dora Smith on June 6, 1944 in Clarksville, Texas the seventh of 12 children. Smith survived a life-threatening bout of pneumonia as an infant which allowed him to carry out the work that God intended for him. Today, his historic achievements make him a nationally and internationally distinguished figure in African American history. He is the only man in the history of track and field to hold eleven world records simultaneously.
During the historical 19th Olympiad in Mexico City in the summer of 1968, Smith broke the world and Olympic record with a time of 19.83 seconds and became the 200-meter Olympic champion. As the Star-Spangled Banner played in the wind at the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games, Smith and John Carlos stood on the victory podium, draped with their Olympic medals, each raised a clinched fist covered in a black leather glove in a historic stand for black power, liberation, and solidarity. This courageous, unexpected worldwide event propelled Smith into the spotlight as a human rights spokesman, activist, and symbol of African American pride at home and abroad. Cheered by some, jeered by others, and ignored by many more, Smith made a commitment to dedicate his life, even at great personal risk to champion the cause of oppressed people. Dr. Smith completed his Autobiography titled “Silent Gesture” published by Temple University Press in January 2007, was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the literary category Autobiography and Biography. The story of the “Silent Gesture” is captured for all time in the 1999 HBO TV documentary: "Fists of Freedom".
Smith’s courageous leadership, talent, and activism have earned him well-deserved acclaim and awards. Some highlights are included here: On November 1, 2019, he was inducted into the United States Olympic & Paralympic Legend Hall of Fame; he's been featured in Sports Illustrated, Ebony, Time, and Newsweek; from 1969 to 1971 he played for the Cincinnati Bengals and was inducted in 1978 as a member of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame; he was part of the coaching staff of the 1995 World Indoor Championship team in Barcelona, Spain; in 1996 he was inducted into the California Black Sports Hall of Fame; in 1999 he won the Sportsman of the Millennium Award; in 1999 he was inducted into the Bay Area Hall of Fame and the San Jose State University Sports Hall of Fame; from 2000 to 2001 the County of Los Angeles and the State of Texas presented Smith with Commendation, Recognition, and Proclamation Awards; and the French Government named a Gymnasium and a Youth Sports House in Paris in his honour. Since the games of the 19th Olympiad, Smith has enjoyed a distinguished career as a coach, educator and activist.
Smith served as a faculty member at Santa Monica College for 27 years, teaching and coaching and serving on academic committees. He has dedicated a total of 37 years to educating and teaching children. In June of 2005 he retired and moved to Georgia, but he continues to travel worldwide giving of himself to all.
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