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Tommie Smith, Legendary Olympic Activist, to Speak at Pomona During Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week

Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith made history in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympic Games with a riveting gesture: After winning the 200-meter race, he and bronze-medal winner John Carlos lowered their heads and raised their fists in the air during “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a civil-rights protest.

Smith will be the keynote speaker of this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week, a 7-C series of events from January 20 through February 3. Smith's keynote address will take place in the Smith Campus Center’s Edmunds Ballroom on January 29 at 7 p.m.

The Commemoration Week series of events is organized by a committee made up of deans, activity directors, program directors and students from the 5-Cs, as well as Claremont Graduate University. The Office of Black Student Affairs acts as the hub for the planning and activities, while each year, a different campus acts as the main host. Pomona is the host for the 2009 series.

“We were talking about a lot of different things with the presidential election and international [events], and basically our discussions came back to: What’s our responsibility for change, and how do we help students, staff and faculty in these communities have agency?” says Sarah Visser, associate dean of campus life at Pomona. “That led us to think, 'Who is an iconic figure who really took a stand and said, 'I have some responsibility for change?'' And Tommie Smith is one of those people.”

After the protest, Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. Olympic team and banned from the Olympic Village for performing a political protest at an apolitical event. In recent years, however, they have been honored with awards and a statue at their alma mater San Jose State University, and were featured in the documentary Fists of Freedom. After the Olympics, Smith distinguished himself as a coach, educator, and athletic director.

Other events occurring during the Commemoration Week include:

  • Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies, literary critic, author, and co-producer and host of African American Lives and African American Lives 2, will discuss “Genetics, Genealogy and African-American History” (Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, CMC, January 22);
  • A candlelight vigil and march that starts in Pomona’s Stanley Quad and winds its way through all the colleges, ending at the Pitzer Mounds where a speech by Dr. King will be rebroadcast (January 26);
  • “The State of the Hip Hop Union” round table discussion featuring authors Jeff Chang (Total Chaos: Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop) and Cheo Hodari (Unbelievable: The Life, Death and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G.) and others (Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, CMC, January 26); 
  • A chat with Tommie Smith (Platt Living Room, Harvey Mudd, January 30);
  • Student reading of “Hyde Park,” an up-and-coming play about a Black man in the queer community and the impact of his life on his family (Allen Studio Theater at Pomona's Seaver Theater, January 30)
  • A student spoken word event, featuring students from the 5-Cs (Allen Studio Theater at Pomona's Seaver Theater, January 31); and
  • The Sojourner Truth Lecture: Connie Rice, civil rights attorney and activist on “Presidential Politics: What Happened to ‘We the People’?” (Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, CMC, February 3)