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John Carlos

John Carlos was born in 1945 in Harlem, New York. Carlos attended Machine Trade and Medical High School, where he was a talented track star. He received a full scholarship to East Texas State University (ETSU), and became that school’s first track and field Lone Star Conference Champion. After only one year at ETSU, Carlos was accepted at San Jose State University. Under the tutelage of Lloyd “Bud” Winter, a notable coach who would eventually be inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, Carlos began to thrive as an athlete.

While attending San Jose State University, Carlos met sociologist Harry Edwards, and under Edward’s influence helped to co-found the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). Edwards wanted to boycott the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City as a protest of the United States’ inability to deal with its human rights injustices. Despite the support of Carlos, Carlos’ newfound friend and fellow athlete Tommie Smith and a variety of civil rights leaders, the boycott never occurred. However, Carlos remained impressed by Edward’s ideas. His athletic career, meanwhile, had taken off – in the 1967 Pan-American games, Carlos was a bronze medalist for the 200 meter event.

At the time of the trials for the 1968 Olympic Games, Carlos beat Smith’s world record time for the 200 meter dash by 0.3 seconds, although a technicality kept the score from being officially recorded. During the actual 200 meter event, Carlos finished third, behind Smith and Australian Peter Norman. While receiving their medals, Smith and Carlos raised their gloved fists as a silent protest of racism and economic depression among oppressed people in America. In response, International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage banned the two men from the Olympic Village and forced them from the United States Olympic team. After their return to the United States, both men received death threats. However, they had become a significant symbol of the Civil Rights struggle. Carlos also saw Martin Luther King, Jr. just ten days before King’s assassination.

Carlos continued to compete and excel in the field of track, and 1969 proved to be a year of great accomplishment. He tied the 100-yard dash record that year with a time of 9.1 seconds and led San Jose State to the NCAA championship for the first time, thanks to his winnings in the 100, 220 and 4x100-yard relay events. After his track career ended, Carlos joined the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, where an unfortunate knee injury cut his professional football career short after only one year. He continued to play football in Canada for the CFL, with one season as a player for the Montreal Alouettes and one year with the Toronto Argonauts. In 1985, Carlos became a counselor for Palm Springs High School in California. In 1998, both Smith and Carlos were honored in a ceremony to commemorate their protest at the 1968 Olympic Games, and the two reunited again at the funeral for Australian runner Peter Norman’s funeral ceremony in 2006.

John Carlos was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 29, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.055

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/29/2006

Last Name

Carlos

Maker Category
Middle Name

W.

Schools

Machine Trade and Medical High School

P.S. 139 Frederick Douglass School

Haaren High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

CAR09

Favorite Season

Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Solitude

Favorite Quote

See Ya! Hate to Be Ya!

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/5/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Palm Springs

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Black Beans, Rice

Short Description

Track and field athlete John Carlos (1945 - ) is most well known for being the bronze medalist for the 200-meter race during the 1968 Olympic games and raising a black power salute on the podium with Tommie Smith.

Employment

Philadelphia Eagles (Football team)

Montreal Alouettes (Football club)

Toronto Argonauts (Football team)

Palm Springs High School

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Carlos' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Carlos lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Carlos describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Carlos describes his parents' occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Carlos describes the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York in the 1950a

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Carlos lists his children and siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Carlos describes his earliest childhood memories of Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John Carlos recalls reuniting with his half-brother in the 2000s

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John Carlos explains the origin of his interest in increasing African American representation

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - John Carlos describes his primary and elementary school experiences in Harlem, New York, including having a learning disability

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Carlos talks about being an elementary school student at P.S. 5 in New York, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Carlos recalls the excessive force used by white police officers and firemen in Harlem, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Carlos talks about the drug crisis in Harlem, New York during the 1950s and psychosocial effects of drug abuse

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Carlos describes the discrimination experienced by his father from business suppliers and owners

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Carlos recounts the boycott of Haaren High School in New York, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Carlos describes raiding food from freight trains in the 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Carlos describes a vision of the Olympics he experienced as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Carlos describes his search for existential meaning and religious faith as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Carlos describes his expulsion from Haaren High School in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Carlos recounts his experiences at a Catholic High School in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Carlos describes his time at Machine and Metal Trades High School in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Carlos describes his role with the New York Pioneers Track and Field Club, the United States' first interracial track team

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

4$6

DATitle
John Carlos describes the discrimination experienced by his father from business suppliers and owners
John Carlos describes raiding food from freight trains in the 1950s
Transcript
Okay.$$Okay. So I'm looking at these things [drug addiction] real early, and I'm going through school with this. And I'm saying now like, you know, "If we don't have no promise by people in the wall that we can look at and say, 'Well, this man here did something or this woman did something,'" just like that poster I have there. You know, you sit back and you say, "Oh, I can say all right. These individuals accomplished something." Look at Jack Johnson. He was a boxer, but not only was he a boxer, he was an inventor too.$$Right.$$Or I put these collage up here on the wall because I want kids to say, "Hey, man, yeah, all ethnics groups played a role in this society in which we live."$$Absolutely.$$We can't pick and choose. And I grew up under that. My old man [father, Earl Vanderbilt Carlos] let me work things on my own to the point where if--if a guy at the candy store would come in and bring sodas. Now most times my old man be in there busy. Okay? Or my brother shining shoes. So when the guy would bring the sodas, we wouldn't count them right there.$$Right.$$But after he's gone, we count them. We might be four cases short. And it had been going like this for a long time. And I'm telling my father, I'm telling my father, and this particular day the guy came, and my father say, "Go count them sodas right now." And I'm thinking he wasn't paying attention. But he say, "Hey, man, I'm just too busy. I'm trying to get these people's shoes ready for when they come home from work." This particular Saturday he say, "Go count them sodas." I went and counted them, say, "Daddy, we're four cases short."$$Wow.$$And he went back there and he told the dude, say, "Hey, man, come on here." He say, "Count these cases with me." And the guy got kind of like, you know, disrespectful. And when he got disrespectful, my old man say, "Whoa, you ain't got no rush. I been buying this shit from you for a good while. Let's count these sodas." So when the guy count them and the sodas came up short, and I told my father, say, yeah, me and my brother, we say, "Daddy, they short all the time like this." And when my father questioned the guy about it, the guy got kind of huffy, like, look at my father like, "Boy, don't question me." And when he said that, I remember the hairs rolling on my neck. You know, my old man wasn't no young man. He calling him boy.$$Right.$$But my old man dealt with him right there on the scene, on the spot, and it was a big scene in the neighborhood [Harlem, New York, New York], and--$$What did your father do?$$Whipped his ass.$$Okay. That's--$$Whipped him from one end of the block to the other.$$(Laughter).$$And, and you know, even though he was whipping this man, I had pride. Not so much that he was whipping the man as much as I had pride for the fact that he wasn't going to let this man just take advantage of him, steal his shit, and then talk shit to him too.$$Right.$$From that right there, it kind of like woke me up, you know, in terms, not so much to say that you're going to whip everybody, but you can deal with any situation irregardless--$$Right.$$--Of what the color line is.$$$$Right.$$And I remember one Christmas we was going over to, right there on the 145th Street Bridge, okay?$$Okay.$$And we went over there, and if you remember, they used to sell all he Christmas trees down there for Christmas.$$Okay, I--$$And my old man was getting on in age, and he goes down there and asks for a tree, and we--ain't nobody there but us. Some white folks walked up and he tell my father, "Well, boy, you going to have to wait." And this guy's thirty-something maybe. And you look at my father. My father is in his sixties now. "Ah, you have to wait, boy. You boys going to have to wait." So, my old man didn't say nothing. He waited. And I asked him when the guy came around to us, I say, "Look, let me ask you a question. How old you have to be to be a man around here?" I say, "That's my father. He look like a boy to you?" So my old man telling me, "Naw, Johnny, be cool." Now I was--I mean I'm steaming.$$Right, how old are you approximately?$$Thirteen, fourteen years old.$$Okay.$$So I go back with my old man, I don't make no scene, but I left and I went and got my brother. Told my brother, said, "Come on." He say, "Where you going?" I say, "Man, just come on. We got to go do something." He say, "What?" I say, "Man, I got to go teach somebody something." So I burned up all his trees.$$(Laughter).$$I burned them all up. And I let him know. I say, "Hey, man, it's just based on the state of mind that you in. Everybody's not a boy and everybody's is going to not accept you calling them a boy." I say, "Remember this, next person you come to, maybe you'll have a little more kindness in your heart." And he didn't know whether to run after us or run to put his fire out. We got on out of there.$$(Laughter).$$And you know, things like this get me in trouble. You know, like my old man used to tell me, say, "Son, you got forty-eight hours to give me an explanation as to what you did and why you did it."$$Talking about the burning of the Christ--$$Talking about anything that I did.$$Oh, okay.$$I mean I was just--$$Forty-eight hours?$$--Forty-eight hours. "You got two days to get it together in your head as to why you did what you did, and make me understand it."$$Alright.$$So, I grew up with the same premise.$Okay.$$Now--$$You're just starting to be--cause trouble, just starting there.$$Oh, no. You know--here's another thing. In my neighborhood [Harlem, New York, New York], man, it wasn't no whole bunch of fathers in the house. Many of them been junkies for years. So they ain't--they absentee parents. The mom might be in the house, and she might be still junking. They didn't have no whole bunch of clothes or food coming into the houses. You know, just like you go to some people right now where they got crack cocaine, and you look in their box and they don't have nothing but the light bulb. Or back at that time, man, it wasn't crack cocaine and it wasn't no whole bunch of drugs, it was just pure "D" unemployment. Unconcerned. People didn't have no concern for them. I saw a kid--as a kid I saw on TV this guy in this green suit, Robin Hood. Robin Hood impressed me. That movie impressed me so much because here's a guy that thought like I did. He said, "Man, I'm not concerned about man's law. I'm concerned about God's law." And that's the same philosophy I have.$$Right.$$And I liked the fact that he didn't worry about the sheriff from Nottinghood [sic., Nottingham] and the King [John] and this and that. He did what he had to do to feed the people.$$Right.$$Okay?$$Alright.$$And I looked at that in terms of where the churches are back and then. Because the churches wasn't doing what they should have been doing. Adam Clayton Powell [Jr.] was doing his thing, but when you sit back, you see every other one was doing it.$$Right.$$Which they weren't. So then, I went back over to the freight yards right out in front of Yankee Stadium--$$Right.$$--And I started busting those seals on them freight trains. And I'm looking--at that time I think they had just started making succotash, frozen foods and stuff. They had clothes in there. So I would go back and monitor them trains, and I told my boys, I said, "Man, we going over there and we going to start hitting the freight trains." And telling me, "Oh, we going to make a lot of money." I said, "Naw, fellows. This ain't about the money." I said, "We ain't making a dime on this. We going back to try and help the people in the community." Okay? And they say, "What are you talking about?" I said, "We going to help the people in the community," and saying, "You need food in your house, you going to have it too." I said, "But this ain't about our pockets." So we went over there and we hit the freight trains.$$Right.$$Now, when we hit the freight trains, you know, the first thing in the front of my brain is Mr. Lester and Mr. Bryant [ph.]. And they know my mother [Vioris Lawrence] and father [Earl Vanderbilt Carlos]. So I go up to the guy on the bridge. You know, they used to have that little box there where the guy would open the bridge. And I knew just by living in Harlem, Harlem River Houses, because after we left Lenox Avenue, we moved up to Harlem River House on 153rd [Street]--$$Right.$$--And Seventh Avenue--$$Right.$$-On Edgecombe. So, I go straight to the guy in the booth--in the box and I said to him, I said, "Hey, buddy, how you doing?" He said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Man, I'm just trying to find out how you doing?" And he looked at me, he said, "Ah, I'm okay." I said to him, I said, "You sit in this box every day, all day?" He said, "For eight hours I sit in this box." I said, "What's your job?" He said, "My job is to make sure that if the tugboats was to come and they got a high mast on it, to open the bridge, a ferry come, whatever. My job is to open this bridge when it's necessary." So I said to him, I said, "Well, how much money they pay you?" He said, "They don't pay me enough for the work I do." And I said to him, I said, "Well, how would you like to have some extra food?" And he looked at me, he said, "What are you saying to me?" I said to him, I said, "When, you see us run across this bridge regularly." I said, "We going to hit these freight trains," I'm saying, "And the police going to come to you one day and tell you to open this bridge up." I said, "Man, all I ask you to do is give me ten minutes." He said, "I could never give you ten minutes." I said, "Give me seven minutes, and every time we come across the bridge, we'll drop you food for your family." And he was in agreement. So we started hitting the freight trains, and we bring it back and we give it to the people in the community. I mean, hey, here. This is for you guys because you ain't had nothing.$$How old are you at this time?$$At that time, I'm still around thirteen, fourteen.$$Okay.